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Six overlooked yet important characters from The Lord of the Rings

News from Bree

Jul 12 2013, 9:21pm

Post #1 of 5 (382 views)
Six overlooked yet important characters from The Lord of the Rings Can't Post

The key players in The Lord of the Rings are probably some of the most-written about characters in literature. Everyone loves the leading lights such as Frodo, Aragorn, Sam and Gandalf.

Yet there are a number of minor (some even without a name!) characters who either serve an important purpose, give us a great deal of food for thought, or even go against established yet hard-to-overcome stereotypes about the content of Tolkien's writing.

In no particular order, here are my leading six.

1) Sam's dead Southron warrior.

"...suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched with blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword."
Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit, The Lord of the Rings.

A common criticism of Tolkien is that evil is evil and good is good and ne'er the twain shall meet. The bad guys only exist to be Othered... and then gloriously hacked to death. Yet Sam's thoughts on the dead Southron are a direct repudiation of this view.

Sam wonders at the man's name, where he came from. The questions run thick and fast. Was he was really a bad man? Was he deceived into serving Sauron to march far from his home to die fruitlessly in the woods of Ithilien? Would he really rather have stayed there in peace?

The narrator gives no answers, but the questions in themselves are a powerful reminder that conflict cannot be easily reduced to "us" and "enemy".

"It was Sam's first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much."

Considering Sam, of all the hobbits, is our perspective character -- the "Everyman" -- it's more important than you might think. Pippin has similarly uneasy thoughts as he watches Saruman's forces march away south to Helm's Deep from Isengard.

2) Ghan-buri-Ghan

"There sat Theoden and Eomer, and before them on the ground sat a strange squat shape of a man, gnarled as an old stone, and the hairs of his scanty beard straggled on his lumpy chin like dry moss. He was short-legged and fat-armed, thick and stumpy, and clad only with grass about his waist."
The Ride of the Rohirrim, The Lord of the Rings.

Another misunderstood criticism: evil is always ugly, and those on the side of good are strikingly handsome. Enter the Woses of Druadan Forest. The descendents of the solitary and tribal Druedain folk who fought in the First Age against Morgoth, and abandoned Numenor long before its destruction, there's nothing pretty about the Wild Men of the Woods. Yet, they assist the Rohirrim to reach the Pelennor in time to save the folk of Gondor.

Of course there are other examples. Most prominently, Sauron assumed a fair form to deceive the elves of Eregion and start the chain of events that leads to the forging of the One Ring.

Icing on the cake, the Woses use poison arrows, and the Marshal of the Mark Elfhelm seems to imply that they've even been used on the Rohirrim. If the good folks never resort to foul means to win, the Woses don't seem to have got the message.

3) Luthien Tinuviel

"Tinuviel rescued Beren from the dungeons of Sauron, and together they passed through great dangers, and cast down even the Great Enemy from his throne, and took from his iron crown one of the three Silmarils, brightest of all jewels, to be the bride-price of Luthien to Thingol her father."
A Knife in the Dark, The Lord of the Rings.

Luthien doesn't even directly enter the events of The Lord of the Rings, yet her influence is felt throughout the tale.

Her example, and that of Beren, inspires Frodo to resist the commands of the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen. Her arts of healing -- more than once she saved Beren from death's door -- are in a smaller measure seen in her descendents Elrond and Aragorn. And as Sam observes just before he and Frodo enter Torech Ungol, the light of the Silmaril she helps Beren recapture is in the Phial of Galadriel that later proves so vital in keeping hope alive for the Quest.

And make no mistake, Beren could not have wrested the Silmaril from Morgoth alone. Luthien plays an equal part -- probably the key role in my opinion -- in the success of that particular quest.

4) Glorfindel

"Suddenly into view below came a white horse, gleaming in the shadows, running swiftly. In the dusk its headstall flickered and flashed, as if it were studded with gems like living stars. The rider's cloak streamed behind him, and his hood was thrown back; his golden hair flowed shimmering in the wind of his speed. To Frodo it appeared that a white light was shining through the form and raiment of the rider, as if through a thin veil."
Flight to the Ford, The Lord of the Rings.

He's just that elf dude who lends Frodo a horse, right? Well, Asfaloth is pretty important to spiriting Frodo out of reach of the onrushing Nazgul, but Glorfindel's importance actually extends much further. In fact, without Glorfindel to drive the three Black Riders from the Last Bridge the quest may have had an early, tragic end and not have even reached Rivendell.

Could Aragorn have driven the Riders from the bridge alone? Not impossible, but he had four Hobbits to shepherd, and one of them was deathly ill. And if they'd had to find a long way round, there's no way that Frodo would have survived the long, arduous journey.

When they meet, Glorfindel tells Aragorn that there were few even in Rivendell able to face the Nazgul, and that it was his lot to take the East Road. Consider: this is obviously where the greatest danger lies, and potentially the greatest need to provide help. I'll leave you to draw the obvious conclusions about what that says about Glorfindel.

Finally, although he has helpers, Glorfindel also plays the key role in forcing the Nazgul into the Bruinen. Without that, the Riders might have well "beseiged" Rivendell and denied the Ring the chance to go any further.

5) Celeborn the Wise

"Very tall they were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celeborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory."
The Mirror of Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings.

Let's face it, in Lothlorien, Galadriel is pre-eminent. I've previously written at length about her political nous, and she plays a key role in both assisting the Quest and stymieing Sauron. Still, Celeborn is no cipher. She accounts him as the wisest of the elves of Middle-earth.

Some of that might be spousal pride. But Celeborn sees clearly to the heart of the Fellowship's dilemma. His offer of boats is practical, useful and, in typically elven fashion, doesn't deny the group their own agency. In fact, not only does he leave the ultimate choice in their hands, his deft suggestion gives the party more time to come to a better decision. He has the wisdom to enable, without the urge to meddle.

His exchange with Gimli also reveals his smarts on two counts: the Balrog is a fearsome demon of the Elder Days, and learning of one so nearby, Celeborn is right to be wary of its potential for havoc and destruction. More, his statement that he might have denied the Fellowship refuge proves that he governs as co-equal with Galadriel.

Yet, he also shows a trait that other elves in positions of power, especially in The Silmarillion, sorely lack: the ability to listen to sage advice and admit error. Thingol dooms Doriath in this way by ignoring Melian; Turgon fails to heed Tuor's message with fatal results. Galadriel reproaches Celeborn, reminding him of the urgent need of the Quest, and he admits the truth of her argument. This, perhaps, is why he is Celeborn the Wise and why "when at last he sought the Grey Havens... with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-earth".

6) Tom Bombadil

"... there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band. With another hop and a bound there came into view a man, or so it seemed. At any rate he was too large and heavy for a hobbit, if not quite tall enough for one of the Big People, though he made noise enough for one, slumping along with great yellow boots on his thick legs, and charging through grass and rushes like a cow going down to drink. He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter."
The Old Forest, The Lord of the Rings.

It's hard to argue that Bombadil is an overlooked character, but I'm pretty certain he is a most misunderstood fellow. After all, it's easy to regard him merely as a figure of whimsy, his quaint folksiness and alliterative poetry at odds with the epic scope of The Lord of the Rings. Yet Bombadil is a bit like an iceberg: he has hidden depths.

At the core this is driven by his unique immunity to the Ring. In this he symbolises a very particular attitude to power and control, and that there are neutrals in any struggle. Rather than wibble on endlessly about it myself, I'll let the author make the point far more clearly and concisely than I could ever manage:

"The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless."
Letter #144, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Of course, you may have other suggestions and ideas! Others such as Goldberry, Gildor, Bergil and even The Gaffer all have their roles to play in the story. Add yours, and your reasons why, in the comments! I'm not sure anyone could make a case for the Talking Fox, though.

Demosthenes has been an incredibly nerdy staff member at TheOneRing.net since 2001. The views in this article are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of other TORn staff.

(This post was edited by Silverlode on Jul 13 2013, 3:59am)


Jul 13 2013, 3:14am

Post #2 of 5 (179 views)
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins [In reply to] Can't Post

Her role was instrumental in showing that a persistently negative hobbit persona could have redeeming characteristics. First, her bravery in assaulting the ruffians (if only the other hobbits had followed her example before Frodo & the others came back!), and second, her charity in helping hobbits who'd been hurt by Lotho's actions. In her own little role, I think she showed how the Shire could become corrupt and made whole again.


Jul 13 2013, 7:29am

Post #3 of 5 (166 views)
Cirdan the shipwright [In reply to] Can't Post


-Though admittedly since he only has four words in the main story its kinda a stretch to say he was 'in' LOTR.

Give me a bit of time And I'll explain how essential the talking purse really was.

The Talking Purse is Awesome, deal with it.

But he isn't quite as aweome as Cirdan.


Jul 13 2013, 6:27pm

Post #4 of 5 (129 views)
I want to read your essay again but my purse says it wants to go shopping. // [In reply to] Can't Post


Coming soon!- The first TORn Amateur Symposium, starts Sunday 21st July in the Reading Room. Closing date for essay submission Sunday 14th July, but even if you don't submit, join us for some interesting discussion on some different and personal ways of looking at Tolkien's work.

The Shire

Jul 21 2013, 5:04am

Post #5 of 5 (103 views)
dead southron warrior [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien touches a specific, necessary point of killing and permission. It is known that when
you change the view on another living individual or group to "it" or "its" you are one step
closer to killing since you have removed a piece of humanity or togetherness of your enemy.
May be this helped Sam to not kill Gollum? Man killing man. Hobbit killing hobbit.
So when I hear rhetoric to label an "enemy" to "it", then that source of information is itself evil.


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