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Discuss the "Allignment" of various characters (might be fun)


Dec 28 2012, 7:21pm

Post #1 of 13 (2677 views)
Discuss the "Allignment" of various characters (might be fun) Can't Post

I started off thinking about "how evil are the orcs?" Treebeard says they cut down trees wantonly, but from the passages where we hear the orcs speak, I get the impression that if sent out to cut down as many trees as possible they would soon be grumbling and bickering about the unwanted work. I can imagine them enjoying some casual vandalism while it remained fun, but that would pall soon, and they would not really have a motive force to guide them towards consistent vandalism (unless some bigger bully is making them do it). Just as likely, the trees were supposed to be dragged off as furnace fuel, but someone didn't turn up, then there was a violent quarrel about who was going to do the hauling...

This led me to thinking about the "alignment" system which the Dungeons and Dragons game used to have. A quick summary of it (as I understand it) might help: This had Good/Evil (and also neutral) but also Lawful/Chaotic (and again neutral). That gives 3 x 3 = 9 "pigeonholes" to put your characters in (from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil). To explain the Lawful/Chaotic axis briefly, a Lawful character likes to -or feels compelled to - obey society's laws (as opposed to "higher" moral laws which define good and evil) , whereas a chaotic character likes -or feels compelled to- break the rules. A neutral character will obey or disobey rules as suits them.

There's a Wikipedia article about the system here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_%28Dungeons_%26_Dragons%29

I guess that makes orcs mostly Neutral Evil

Neutral Evil [from that Wikipedia article]: "Characters of this alignment are typically selfish and have no qualms about turning on their allies-of-the-moment, and usually make allies primarily to further their own goals. They have no compunctions about harming others to get what they want, but neither will they go out of their way to cause carnage or mayhem when they see no direct benefit to it."

With some points of Chaotic evil - expending energy and taking risks to do bad things "for sheer badness" when there is nothing to gain from it.

Of course, someone has been here before me - I found this chart: http://fc00.deviantart.net/...ymadness-d37wxzx.jpg (best seen in hi-res).

For those not wanting to download a big image, the suggestions are:
  • Lawful good - Faramir
  • Neutral good - Galadriel
  • Chaotic Good - Tom Bombadil
  • Lawful Neutral - Gimli
  • Neutral neutral - Treebeard
  • Chaotic Neutral - Smeagol (or is it Gollum? )*
  • Lawful Evil - Mouth of Sauron
  • Neutral Evil - Wormtongue
  • Chaotic Evil - Balrog

I should add that they are not my suggestions, so I don't have any inside knowledge as to how these conclusions were reached.

* Smeagol might end up in one pigeonhole, and Gollum in another - or you could try to "average" them.

I should warn that, in this game, there tend to be no absolutely right answers, just interesting ones! So we might get bogged down in stubborn disagreement (but I hope not - the only trolls I have so far encountered here are the characters in the stories).There are 3 reasons I can think of which prevent absolutr answers in a work as sophisticated as Tolkien's:
First: I don't see why a character shouldn't behave as more than one "type", according to circumstances; but perhaps there is a characteristic type to which characters naturally.

Second: the two axes can run into conflict, forcing a character to choose between impulses. For example, consider two similar scenes -
  1. Eomer first encounters Aragor, Gimli and Legolas
  2. Faramir first encounters Frodo and Sam

Both are under instructions to detain any strangers (which makes that the Lawful thing to do). Each decides to set the law aside (and to face severe personal consequences if needed), because speeding the strangers on their way is the Good thing to do. So I'm seeing them as Lawful Good.
Thirdly and lastly, I think characters might change over time - I see Saruman descending down the Neutral column over his career - at the time of Helm's Deep he seems pretty Neutral Evil (I think his evil is calculated to bring about goals he now desires. Isengard is a polluted industrial wasteland because he wants industry and can't be bothered to clear up, not because he likes squalor). But by the Sharkey phase, I think he's gone Chaotic Evil - his goal is a revenge one; he just wants to make the Shire as miserable a place as possible to get back at Frodo & Co. Though interestingly, he does this by imposing a lot of pointless petty rules and inconveniences on the poor Hobbits, exploiting what I see as their innate Lawfulness.

This 2008 thread (is Morgoth Chaotic Evil versus Sauron as Lawful Evil?) is the only other one I've found here on this theme. It's a good demonstration of how there can be multiple interesting answers, but nothing can, in the final analysis, be settled.

Is that useful or fun? Anyone want to play? Let the games begin Wink


Dec 28 2012, 10:09pm

Post #2 of 13 (1965 views)
Wrong! Wrong! (just kidding) [In reply to] Can't Post

But isn't that what the internet is for, telling other people they're wrong, and being rude about it to boot? *sigh*

My laments aside, that's quite thought-provoking, both your post and the one from 2008. Good and evil are quite clear in LOTR, but chaos and lawfulness aren't so clear, especially when people make exceptions to the law they help to uphold, as Faramir and Eomer do in your examples. Tolkien seemed to like exceptions to laws: Gandalf criticizes Denethor's servants for obeying his will to burn him and Faramir, while Beregond is clearly a hero for breaking the law. Then later he's judged by Aragorn, who obeys the law in finding him guilty, but rewards him when he's supposed to punish him, which is breaking the law in a way, but it's all for Good. I'm sure we could come up with a lot more examples of that.

For orcs in general, I remember on first read being both confused and disturbed that the Cirith Ungol orcs did nothing to rescue one of their own kind, Ufthak, who was captured by Shelob but remained alive for days. When they found him, they laughed at him, "no good interfering with Her." Can you imagine anyone in the Fellowship leaving someone else behind like that? Even when they thought Frodo was dead, they took his body because they didn't want the orcs to defile or eat it. Anyway, it seems that orcs are Neutral Evil, which explains their behavior pretty well.

Dwarves, in general, are Lawful Neutral. They obey their own laws, but will fight on the side of either good or evil, except for Durin's line.

I'm puzzled by the chart listing Galadriel as Neutral Good. Aside from her temptation by the Ring (which she famously overcame), it seems to me that she obeys the rules. I guess she was part of Feanor's rebellion, but the Lorien-Galadriel we see seems the Lawful type. She even formed the White Council. What am I missing?

Gandalf--yes, operates outside all the laws of other peoples, but inherently good. That nails him.

Treebeard--not so sure he's a True Neutral. He makes it clear to the hobbits that he's not on anyone's side, because no one's on his, but once he gets worked up, he seems to be good and even respectful of others' rules. He's not really as neutral as he claims, since he consents to help the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep without haggling with Gandalf, and later helps protect Rohan when it's invaded and its army had gone to Gondor--no one was even around to ask him then.

I like the classification of the Mouth of Sauron--fits him perfectly. Ditto Bombadil.

Gollum--not so sure. I suppose I hesitate to call him purely evil, since he's so tormented and crazy, but he seems a lot more evil than good. Maybe it's the debate between amoral and immoral; he's the former, but still, he seems to take pleasure in the pain of others, and I think of sadism as evil.

Wouldn't Wormtongue be Chaotic Evil? He seems to break every rule there is: betraying his official lord, Theoden, and stealing from others, while lusting inappropriately after Eowyn. Then with Saruman, he breaks a couple of rules: throwing the palantir at Gandalf, and then killing Sharkey in the Shire. Oh, and that's after he broke the law against eating other people like Lotho. He didn't create mass evil on the scale of Sauron, but I'd put him in the same class.

So what about some others?
  • Elrond--Lawful Good. I think all the Elves are in LOTR.
  • Denethor--Lawful Neutral. I wouldn't call him purely evil.
  • Barliman Butterbur--Lawful Good?
  • Lotho--Lawful Neutral?
  • The Shirriffs--same as Lotho?
  • Bill Ferny--True Neutral. He seems to make trouble for its own sake, which makes Good people treat you as an outcast, but if he could betray the Nazgul to Frodo somehow for a pot of gold, I think he would.
  • Eowyn--True Neutral? I say that because she disobeys Theoden with her Dernhelm ruse (breaks the rules), and she doesn't seem loyal to any Good cause and is pretty much out for herself.
  • Feanor--Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Evil? I think I'd say he was evil, partly because Mandos bluntly said he was, and because he did a lot of bad things that he knew were wrong. I don't think it makes him good that he fought Morgoth, anymore than Sauron fighting Morgoth would make Sauron good. Still, there is some good in Feanor, and Tolkien gives some consideration to him:

his father was dearer to him than the Light of Valinor or the peerless works of his hands; and who among sons, of Elves or Men, have held their father of greater worth?

But that has never let him off the hook in my mind. I vote evil.

Great post--keep them coming!


Dec 28 2012, 10:44pm

Post #3 of 13 (1922 views)
Movin' up, movin' down [In reply to] Can't Post

Great examples!
Some of the most interesting charActers move up or down the chart: think Treebeard might start true neutral, then the Ents decide to join a wider Good cause (even if they are marching to their doom). Maybe that moves them up a row to Neutral Good. (Ghan-buri-ghan might be the true True Neutral; renders real assistance, but out of enlightened self interest. )

Denethor - I agree; then something happens when he goes mad. Not sure the system has a pigeonhole for despair

Galadriel- too much a politician to be lawful good? That is, inclined to make rather than obey the rules? Heads lawful-wise in the end, at last willing to give up her pride and leave Middle-earth?

What do we do with Boromir - strong lawful instincts, but being sucked neutral wise by his pride? Not sure what you do with the deluded characters: e.g. The mad Boromir who tries to take the Ring from Frodo thinks he needs it for the finest of motives, but only he thinks that's credible....

The Ring itself: it's always unclear whether it is a "temptation" in the passive sense ( like a bottle of whiskey to an alcoholic, or a fresh credit card to a spendthrift ) or in an active sense (like the sirens calling Odysseus). I'll provisionally post it in Lawful evil: sticks to the rule of trying to get back to Sauron, any mayhem so caused is ok.

Was going to title this post "Bombadils ring-carrying eagles defy nazi balrog wings" but though that might be a tad provocative .....


Dec 28 2012, 10:56pm

Post #4 of 13 (1931 views)
Regular elvish trick [In reply to] Can't Post

I meant to add- your example about the orcs leaving Ufthak dangling in Shelob's webs ("no good interfering with Her") follows swiftly from Gorbag supposing that the 'large warrior...with an elf-sword" supposed to be on the loose just left Frodo lying. "Regular elvish trick" he says. Clearly that is disapproving (as well as defamatory). Suggests the orcs have a standard morality they don't live up to, as opposed to thinking its fine to abandon your fallen comrade if he's no further use to you (neutral evil); or fun to do it just cause you can if you feel like it (chaotic evil).


Dec 28 2012, 11:44pm

Post #5 of 13 (1890 views)
Rating the Ring and Boromir [In reply to] Can't Post

First of all, this had me laughing out loud. Good one!

In Reply To
Not sure the system has a pigeonhole for despair

It's a larger debate about how active or passive the Ring is. To me, it's active (a siren) because it has other active effects on its bearers, such as giving them a long, thinly stretched life. Having a long life isn't something that resides in the person being tempted; it comes from outside. But I realize that's a much larger debate, so I'll just say that's my rationale for calling the Ring Lawful Evil. Isn't it? It seems to play consistently by Sauron's rules. I don't see it as neutral like an orc; it regularly betrays its bearers in its attempts to get back to its master, and it doesn't stop for fun along the way.

Boromir: tough one. So tough I'll let others hash that one out.

Speaking of moving up and down the list, what do we do with Beregond? Good, and Lawful, until he disobeys Denethor to save Faramir, and kills another man of Gondor to do it. I wouldn't say he was lawful in trying to save Faramir as his lord when Denethor was clearly #1 in who should be obeyed. But does one act change your rating? It seems reasonable to assume that he went back to being Lawful Good as captain of Faramir's guard.


Dec 28 2012, 11:48pm

Post #6 of 13 (1939 views)
My RP background is not D&D [In reply to] Can't Post

but I have encountered this system and played D&D before. Nonetheless, at times I find the alignment system a bit confusing and it seems to fail to account for variation in people that may depend on the situation. OR maybe I am just too chaotic to get this ... anyway ...

The trouble with law is that it is not a single coherent body and it really is a messy overlap of conflicting "laws" rather than a consistent and sensible whole. But maybe lawfulness is more a desire / willingness to submit and hold onesself to external principles in spite of internal motivations?

And then I have to ask, what about "natural law" and the principles of yin and yang and karma and the like. Do these count or is it only law if a person somewhere is defining it alongside a strong and well defined hierarchy for the governance of its application?

That being said, I wonder about Eowyn. If the laws of her heart, love, and desire to fight for/beside Aragorn, then I would say she was true and good in her choices. Was it for love or was it for self satisfaction? It was strong enough to hold her toe-to-toe against fear and evil incarnate so I think it's more than mere selfishness.

I'm going to lean towards good but perhaps chaotic good or neutral good ... or lawful depending on what "counts" as law. For example, Sauron had a lot of laws that all of the elves and company were breaking flagrantly, no? Surely even the most lawful of characters must break some rules. The question might be one of which law is followed rather than whether or not a law is followed and the degree to which that law is intrinsic or externally motivated ...


Dec 29 2012, 9:06am

Post #7 of 13 (1883 views)
Which law? [In reply to] Can't Post

"Which law?" Is a good question. I'd assumed that it was the established conventions of your culture.
Eowyn is an interesting case: we can see her predicament as a modern person ( ought to be able to live her own life) and her tradegy is that everyone else is either overlooking this or can't do anything about it (Aragorn). In effect she deserts her post: chaotic good?

Ah Beregond! His big moment is something so out of character that we're delighted when Aragorn finds a fitting punishment which is more a reward. But it's a fine paradox- in his desperation to do good (save Faramir) he does a murder. Is that his defining moment, or just his most dramatic one?

"Hard cases make bad law" but hopefully they make fun discussion...

I was thinking Bill Ferney probably is true neutral , as CuriousG says; which is interesting- I'm temptied to make him more evil or chaotic than that because he's so unpleasant.

I agree, and its interesting that the good/evil axis is usually easier to do than the lawful / chaotic one. But when I tried doing this for some of George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) characters I found it easier to to the lawful axis and harder to do the good!


Dec 29 2012, 10:35am

Post #8 of 13 (1900 views)
Rulers? [In reply to] Can't Post

We have a "lawful" problem with the absolute rulers we find - the law is whatever they say it is (though they are probably judged by how that compares with a conception of how the the law should be.)

The Shire

Dec 29 2012, 5:19pm

Post #9 of 13 (1892 views)
Not much is lawful... [In reply to] Can't Post

I struggle to think of good characters that are actually lawful. The only ones that really seem to be truly lawful, are the ones that are in the position to be making the laws which gives them something of an advantage. Can a King ever really be anything but lawful when he can change the laws pretty much on a whim? I mean none of the cultures in The Lord of the Rings seem to have any structures that can challenge the power of the king. Unless you count Gandalf. So Denethor and Theoden are lawful because they are the law. Though I suppose there is something to be said for the traditions that are sometimes mentioned as binding the lawmakers decisions, but does disobeying tradition really make you unlawful?

As for characters like Galadriel, I struggle to call her lawful because I don't really see her ever obeying anyone if she didn't want to. Or rather, I don't think she would ever really think anyone knew better than she did, therefore any obedience she might show would only ever be to things she agreed with not because they were the law. I don't know that we ever see an example of her behaving contrary to her own inclination because of some kind of law.

The Hobbits are the closest to properly lawfully good characters that we see, but they are only really lawful when they're in the Shire. They break the laws of all the other lands they visit fairly universally. Attending secret councils they're not invited to (Sam in Rivendell), abandoning their posts (I'm pretty sure Pippin disobeys some direct standing orders during the siege), going into battle when they've been specifically ordered to stay back (Merry). They're also pretty unlawful when they get back so actually in the cause of this paragraph I've convinced myself they're not actually lawful at all. They only obey when the law they're obeying matches their own inclination.

In that respect, I think the only truly lawful characters are actually the Orcs because they, generally, do as they're told even when they don't want to. I'm not sure there's much Orcs want to do aside from eat and cause havoc so the fact that they every actually do anything else, even if they need serious persuading to do it, probably makes them more lawful than anyone else.

My other question is, does one act undermine your entire alignment? Farmair breaks the law in letting Frodo go, but its fairly exceptional circumstances and he dithers about it so can we actually imagine him doing that again? So is he lawful, with one minor deviation or does that deviation actually change his underlying lawful character?


Dec 29 2012, 10:17pm

Post #10 of 13 (1878 views)
How awful to be lawful? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think the idea is that a Lawful character can break laws but would feel uncomfortable doing so. So they tend to need a strong provocation. Conversely, a chaotic character would be able to obey laws, but would be inhibiting their natural tendency towards anarchy. A Neutral character would feel no discomfort by in either obeying or disobeying the law- so they probably do what is advantageous to them.

So for example I think Pippin could be still classed as lawful despite deserting his post to get help for Faramir: he'd judge that the need to prevent murder outweighs the rule about staying at your post. It would be different if he left his post because he fancied a beer...

How about Haldir as a lawful good character? He's under orders to detain and blindfold strangers in Lorien and not to admit dwarves. He says that he didn't make those rules, so can't waive them. But when he's given permission. To waive them he's perfectly happy. It's a less intense encounter than Aragorn & Co meeting Eomer and Faramir meeting Frodo & Sam. The Fellowship DO want to go to Lorien, whereas The other 2 encounters nearly come to confrontation. Both Eomer and Faramir eventually decide to waive their respective "detain strangers" rules. But they each have to be persuaded that it would be an injustice to carry out the law. And they both fully intend to be held responsible for their decisions. So I think they are both Lawful Good.

The Shire

Jan 1 2013, 7:55pm

Post #11 of 13 (1811 views)
Not totally convinced [In reply to] Can't Post

Even taking that into account I donít think there are many characters who get particularly upset by their rule breaking. Pippin does have some moments, but his dilemma seems to be generally between morality and lawfulness as opposed to actually being based within lawfulness itself. I always read it as running along the lines of: would it be morally wrong for me to obey the law at this point. As opposed to coming from the point of view of, it is morally right to obey the law therefore I am troubled by the idea of breaking it. If that distinction makes any sense.

Iím also not entirely sure that Pippin might not have eventually had enough of standing around and gone off for some beer and some food had he had to do the job longer. Itís not very Hobbit like to stand around on an empty stomach whatever your duty might be. Isnít there something when they return to the Shire about one of the Sheriffs being in and out of one of the pubs whether he was on duty or not?

I hadnít thought about Haldir, but yes I do agree he probably is lawful. I still donít fully agree that Faramir and Eomer are particularly lawful because I donít see them as troubled by their unlawful acts. They have to be persuaded to break the law, but when they do I donít think doing it hugely troubles them. Eomer doesnít just let them go, he also gives them horses, heís determined to be whole sale unlawful. Iím also not entirely sure that either of them intends to be held responsible for their decisions; I think itís more that they know they will be. I mean both of them have made their decisions in front of their men so they know that it wonít go unnoticed. No, Iím not convinced.


Jan 1 2013, 8:05pm

Post #12 of 13 (1829 views)
Law and culture [In reply to] Can't Post

are sometimes in conflict! For example, in some cultures, it is cool to break the law etc. (to the point where you become an outcast if you don't).

But maybe it is a matter of what code a person accepts and formally surrenders to or informally surrenders to using key identifiers like dressing to fit a specific social clique, liking the right music, and rejecting / avoiding all the necessary and specified taboos whatever they may be etc.

In that case, Eowyn is probably chaotic good because she is something like a figurehead of sorts for her culture and really blows it out of her ears when her heart calls elsewhere.


Jan 1 2013, 9:01pm

Post #13 of 13 (1984 views)
Such as the Mafia [In reply to] Can't Post

As I understand this lawful/chaotic divide, it seems that the Mafia obeys its own laws while disobeying the laws of the country. So a gangster who did all he was told by his crime boss would qualify as lawful.


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