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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 7:37 pm 
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This is not a historical, plot-centered importance, such as was discussed in narya's thread. It is a literary importance. It is the character who draws us in, who invites us deeper into the universe created by JRR Tolkien. Which characters resonate?

It will not be the bare answer given that is most interesting, but the perspective that leads to the answer. There are many different ways of seeing a work as deep and true as LOTR. And there are many answers, truly. Even for a single person there may be many answers.

Tom Bombadil

That's not my answer, but it is a possible answer. What meanings seen in LOTR lead to such an answer? He's not important to the plot; he's even disliked by many readers. I would find such an answer fascinating.

Any character is eligible, by the way, including Gandalf and Illuvatar.

My own answer must wait, I fear. I should start the thread with an answer and explanation, but that is beyond me at the moment. I will say that one of the answers I would give is Faramir.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 7:49 pm 
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I think that for me it is tie between Frodo and Sméagol. They are the flip sides of each other. I'll be back to explain why later.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:03 pm 
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Ursula Le Guin wrote an essay I've got somewhere explaining how Frodo/Sam and Gollum/Sméagol are four aspects of one character.

But for me, the character who "who draws us in, who invites us deeper into the universe created by JRR Tolkien" has always been Frodo. Not only is he at the center of the central quest, but his "outsideness," especially after he returns from Mordor, helps define some important aspects of Middle-earth for me: the power he rejects, the community he can't be part of.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:18 pm 
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I wouldn't give up any of the Tolkien's characters. It is in the interaction with each other, in the great variety and genuine humanity of each character that the greatness of the story lies.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:18 pm 
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I'll give you one guess as to what my answer is. ;)

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:26 pm 
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It couldn't possibly, of course, be Sam.

Everyone knows Sam was a bit player. :twisted:

Actually, Frelga makes an excellent point: often the greatness of the story is born out of the interaction of the various characters.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:29 pm 
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I was actually thinking of the fox.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:45 pm 
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LOTR is an ensemble piece, and therefore several characters resonate with me, and the dominant ones seem to change over time.

When I first read LOTR in the early '70s Galadriel struck me as a very special character. It may have partly been Tolkien's description of her, but mostly I think it was how the other characters venerate her so highly. Other characters that stood out to me were Faramir--he was the character I most related to and most desired to be like--and how can one read LOTR and not be struck by Bombadil (either positively, in my case, or negatively in the case of many others)?

Gandalf, of course, is obviously a very special character in The Hobbit, and his role grows in importance in LOTR, even if much of it is behind the scenes. His role as the Steward of Middle-earth is particularly significant. His short temper, occasional lapses in memory, and moments of doubt make him more endearing than if he were perfect as we might expect an angelic servant of the Creator to be. As I have grown I find I relate to him more than any other character.

Bombadil is the character I would most like to be like. He is the only ever-blissful character that I can think of that is not worn down by the weight and cares of the world. I relate to him in many ways, in appearance as well as in the pleasure I derive from singing and whistling and the carefree disposition I often express, but alas I lack his mastery of my environment and am at times adversely effected by negativity around me whereas Bombadil's merry nature seems to drive away negativity when it rears its ugly head. Sam's assessment summarizes Bombadil very nicely: 'He’s a caution and no mistake. I reckon we may go a good deal further and see naught better, nor queerer.’

I understand the importance of Sam and Frodo to the central themes of LOTR--the love they share and the sacrifices they make--and Aragorn as he strives to fulfill his destiny to reunite Arnor and Gondor as well as Men and Elves in his union with Arwen, and certainly their importance cannot be overstated, but I have never identified with them particularly strongly. Perhaps if I was a combat veteran as Tolkien was, or had been exiled from my home country, I would feel differently.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:51 pm 
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When I first read it, it was Aragorn. Then I grew up, and it became Frodo. As I age, it begins to look like Sam, or perhaps Faramir. Eventually it will be Denethor and it will be time for me to go. :)


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:05 pm 
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Nice idea, Faramond! I've got to come back to this either late tonight or tomorrow, as I'm behind in my work right now.

(Shot my posting wad poking fun at Dick and Jane.)

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:24 pm 
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Frelga: I wouldn't give up any of the Tolkien's characters.

Nor would I! It is not a question of which character to give up, but which speak most clearly to each of us.

It is in the interaction with each other, in the great variety and genuine humanity of each character that the greatness of the story lies.

Yes, I think the interaction of characters is very important. But why? I will say it is because the truth of each character is revealed by his or her interactions. Without Frodo, we cannot see Tom Bombadil. Tolkien could describe Tom, and have Tom describe himself, but this would only let us know of him, and not know him. It is like the difference between seeing a statement of the Pythagorean Theorem and following actively through the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. The true nature of each character is revealed by the answers he gives to that which he does not control. The characters are revealed by their unscripted moments, which must occur when they interact. LOTR is great because the characters seem to have unscripted moments. The characters are not levers in a plot or icons in an ideology.

It would be impossible to know the true nature of Sauron, for he interacts with no one. He is remote; he commands. Better to ask, instead, how the one ring interacts with characters. The one ring might be considered, for some purposes, a character too.


Primula: But for me, the character who "who draws us in, who invites us deeper into the universe created by JRR Tolkien" has always been Frodo. Not only is he at the center of the central quest, but his "outsideness," especially after he returns from Mordor, helps define some important aspects of Middle-earth for me: the power he rejects, the community he can't be part of.

In the spirit of Tolkien's Moral Universe from TORC, I want to turn this last statement around. What is Frodo affirming? It's not all just rejection of something, is it?

I agree that Frodo's "outsideness" is important. I am thinking that if Frodo was only an outsider at the end, and not inside of anything then he could not resonate so strongly. If Frodo was "an outsider without a cause" he would be flat. So there's more. ( Obviously you didn't say there wasn't more. ) I'm not sure I know what it is, or can describe it, so I want to ask Prim, or anyone, if they can help me out.


Voronwë: I think that for me it is tie between Frodo and Sméagol. They are the flip sides of each other. I'll be back to explain why later.

I find it likely that there will be an interesting philosophical perspective behind this.


axordil: Eventually it will be Denethor and it will be time for me to go.

Denethor would be a fascinating answer! There is in his story the danger of knowledge, the danger of thinking you know more than you do.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:35 pm 
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Faramond wrote:
Without Frodo, we cannot see Tom Bombadil. Tolkien could describe Tom, and have Tom describe himself, but this would only let us know of him, and not know him. It is like the difference between seeing a statement of the Pythagorean Theorem and following actively through the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. The true nature of each character is revealed by the answers he gives to that which he does not control


Very well said. There may be literary works that are made great by a brilliant portrayal of a central character. I'm sure I can think of some in a minute. But in Tolkien, each character is vetted on the others.

Sam, for instance, is a cherished choice for many, but he becomes a great character in his loyalty and love of Frodo. If Frodo were not such a compelling character himself, we wouldn't care as much about his faithful Sam, I think.

Boromir, especially, is a character that is seen almost entirely through other characters. Through Frodo, we see a haughty and forbidding person, but it's when we are allowed share the memories of Éomer, Faramir, and especially Merry and Pippin that the character becomes truly a worthy leader of men.

Even Gandalf, exalted as he is by his divine mission, is important because he cares about our little hobbits.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:11 pm 
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The reason I read the books (and keep reading them) is Saruman. I can't say why, but he seems the character hardest done by. He is supposed to be this wise person, but in the end, he is only human.

I first read it t discover who the hell he was, having seen a play and not knowing who the hell Saruman was.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:14 pm 
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Faramond wrote:
Primula: But for me, the character who "who draws us in, who invites us deeper into the universe created by JRR Tolkien" has always been Frodo. Not only is he at the center of the central quest, but his "outsideness," especially after he returns from Mordor, helps define some important aspects of Middle-earth for me: the power he rejects, the community he can't be part of.

In the spirit of Tolkien's Moral Universe from TORC, I want to turn this last statement around. What is Frodo affirming? It's not all just rejection of something, is it?

I agree that Frodo's "outsideness" is important. I am thinking that if Frodo was only an outsider at the end, and not inside of anything then he could not resonate so strongly. If Frodo was "an outsider without a cause" he would be flat. So there's more. ( Obviously you didn't say there wasn't more. ) I'm not sure I know what it is, or can describe it, so I want to ask Prim, or anyone, if they can help me out.


"Rejection" is not the right word, I now think. It's more a matter of drawing a distinction, a definition. Frodo doesn't deny Aragorn's rights and power as king of Gondor, but they are not relevant to what Frodo now is. He's of another world while still living in Middle-earth.

Aragorn can bow to Frodo and to Sam without diminishing his own majesty because Frodo and Sam are now outside the rules. In acknowledging what they've achieved and what Frodo especially has become, Aragorn is acknowledging powers beyond his own and a world that is about to claim Frodo for its own. He can look up and see Frodo. But Frodo's looking up, too, and can't see him.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:56 pm 
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Faramond, when you asked "what draws you in?" I thought immediately of reading the book for the first time and asking myself what kept me turning the pages. It was Tom Bombadil who hooked me for the duration, but there was a succession of 'introductions' that made it feet as if layers and layers of Middle Earth were being peeled back. First, into this ordinary scene in Bag End, comes the Wizard Gandalf. And then the Black Riders, and then Tom, and Aragorn in Bree, and then Elrond ... and then the forming of the Fellowship of then-fantastic beings, and the majesty and mystery increased with each new introduction. I think that is what made the books as books unstoppable for me.

And then, for a long time, because I was a 16 year-old girl when I read them the first time, it was Éowyn who resonated the most for me. But I sort of outgrew her ... that is, she became less important a reason why the books were beloved by me. Today, I think it remains Tom Bombadil who makes me feel I've read something historical and ... deeply about the nature of man.

There is no one character that gives LotR its keen philosophical edge, for me, but the sum of all their choices and how they fit together in the end does this.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 09, 2007 3:20 am 
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Faramond wrote:
Voronwë: I think that for me it is tie between Frodo and Sméagol. They are the flip sides of each other. I'll be back to explain why later.

I find it likely that there will be an interesting philosophical perspective behind this.


But whether I can find the right words to express that interesting philosophical perspective is more up in the air. I am continuing to ponder it. But meanwhile, I'm going to offer an alternative, perhaps surprising answer to the question.

First of all, I need to say that it is impossible for me to approach this question from the perspective that Jn mentioned, of thinking about what drew me in to the story at my first reading. Not that I don't think that is a valid perspective; of course it is. It's just that I have no recollection of my initial reactions to the tale, sad as that might be to admit. I can only approach the question "Which character is most important to the greatness of LOTR?" from my current outlook, based on many readings of both LOTR and Tolkien other work, and also his own words about his work (and other peoples words about his work, both on the messageboards and in scholarly works).

My reading of LOTR has been increasingly influenced by Tolkien's statement that the "real theme" of the work is "death and immortality". It occurs to me as I am writing this that even through this filter, Frodo/ Sméagol would still be a good answer to the question, but I will table that thought for now, and hopefully add it to those philosophical ruminations that Faramond hopes. No, I thinking of another character that I believe particularly well embodies this theme. A character who represents a surprising choice to the question of which character is most important to the greatness of LOTR, because she barely appears at all in the main text of the work.

The character that I am referring to is, of course, Arwen. Even though she barely appears in the text, her decision to give up her mortality out of love for Aragorn is an almost omni-present subtext throughout the book. Moreover, it ties the tale of the War of the Rings with that of the War of the Jewels, and particularly with what Tolkien consider to be his most important story, the story of Beren and Lúthien. Her decision - and the influence that it has on Aragorn - represents the culmination of that tale.

Thus I think a real argument can be made that Arwen is the character most important to the greatness of LOTR.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 09, 2007 6:38 pm 
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I mentioned that I now probably identify with Gandalf more than any other character. I think about Gandalf, the Grey Pilgrim, and how he did not have a home. It is clear that the Shire was sort of a home base for him, despite his absence of several years after Bilbo left. It is also clear that he spent a lot of time at the Prancing Pony in Bree, a haven for many travelers. (Fortunately I have a home, and find myself loathe to leave it for more than a day or two. I'm definitely more like Bombadil, or perhaps more Hobbit-like, in that regard. )

I also think of the enormous responsibilities that Gandalf had. It's no small wonder he had memory lapses! Perhaps I'm projecting a bit here, but it also occurs to me that he must have felt very lonely at times, feeling like he had to face all of the problems of Middle-earth alone. Of course he had allies like Elrond, Galadriel, Aragorn, and Gwaihir but throughout all his wanderings they must have seemed very far away at times.

It certainly doesn't help that his presumed colleagues were either working contrary to his efforts, like Saruman the White, or were completely off-task, like Radagast the Brown. Then there were Alatar and Pallando the Blue who were missing in action. What's a poor Istar to do?

It is definitely Gandalf that draws me into Tolkien's world.

Crucifer wrote:
I first read it t discover who the hell he was, having seen a play and not knowing who the hell Saruman was.

I find that very interesting, particularly since Saruman's name gets mangled more often than any character, probably because it is often confused with Sauron. In Bakshi's film they went so far as to drop the initial 'S', but even the film-makers were not consistent about that. :roll:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 1:20 am 
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What a wonderful idea for a thread, Faramond!

And what intriguing responses so far. As I've read through the replies, I've been nodding in agreement, because each of these characters feels dear to me, and I can very much understand how each could be "the one" (or “one of the ones”) that draws a reader - heart, mind and soul - into this extraordinary work.

I must admit, though, that I was rather muddled about the initial question Faramond posed, until he wrote this:

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It is not a question of which character to give up, but which speak most clearly to each of us.


Thank-you, Faramond! :D

Faramond wrote:
I will say it is because the truth of each character is revealed by his or her interactions. Without Frodo, we cannot see Tom Bombadil. Tolkien could describe Tom, and have Tom describe himself, but this would only let us know of him, and not know him. <snip> The true nature of each character is revealed by the answers he gives to that which he does not control. The characters are revealed by their unscripted moments, which must occur when they interact. LOTR is great because the characters seem to have unscripted moments. The characters are not levers in a plot or icons in an ideology.


Yes! It is the voices in LOTR that resonated first for me, and after all these years, I still love to listen to them, and I still find new and surprising depths in each character's words.

I suppose the first voice that really jolted me, that really made me realize that I was being drawn into places and ideas that were wholly new to me, was that of Tom Bombadil. And specifically (very specifically!) it was his question to Frodo that cut straight to my heart:

Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?

I'd never experienced anything like that before in a work of fiction, and I’ve never met anything like it since. At the age of sixteen it seemed, as clear and sure as could be, that the voice was asking that question directly of me, and thirty-nine years later, it still feels just like that. It's taken years to unravel and make sense of all the feelings and ideas that have been conjured during my many visits to the House of Bombadil (and those I wrote about in depth in the thread here that's dedicated to the old master). But in a nutshell, Tom (along with Goldberry, because for me, she is an essential aspect of the power that resides inside that magical dwelling) represents the deepest, most mysterious, and most profound aspects of being alive - the feeling of being part of something that is ageless and formless and limitless. He speaks to my "inner mystic", I suppose, something like the words of Lao Tsu, or Rumi, or Merton. When I’m in the House of Bombadil, its essence feels inexplicably close to these words from the Tao Te Ching:

Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.


It is the voice of Bombadil that speaks to me of what may be beyond this physical world, but it is the voice of Treebeard that speaks to me of the physical world itself. Treebeard :love:. I loved him from the very first words that he utters, and his is still the voice that I hear the most clearly and that I hold the most dear. For me, Bombadil is more like a hermit monk, removed from the attachments of the outer world, understanding the sorrows and burdens of life, an yet somehow above their reach. But sorrows and burdens weigh upon old Treebeard, much like the slow ravages of time that weigh upon his beloved forest. He has loved and lost, knows regret and anger and doubt. He too, has many attributes of “the monk”, but his attachment to the world is strong, and he is willing to leave his cloister, unlike Tom, to champion the living things he holds so dear. I don’t know if Bombadil has a real purpose in Middle-earth. I think he is beyond such a thing: “He is” Goldberry says, and that is enough. But Treebeard was created with a purpose, and throughout all the long ages of Arda, he has remained true to it. And in spite of the shadow that has stained his home, his Middle-earth, consuming its lands, corrupting its innocence, and sundering its inhabitants, he loves it and cherishes it, and will not forsake it.

I said at the beginning that it was the voices within LOTR that first drew me into the tale – voices that spoke of things that seemed wholly new to me, and yet, deep down, things I knew to be true and constant. It was Tom’s question to Frodo that stood out from all his other words. For Treebeard, it was his walking song, infused with such mystery and ancientry and reverence, it felt like a hymn:

In the willow-meads of Tasarinan I walked in the
Spring.
Ah! the sight and the smell of the Spring in Nan-
tasarion!
And I said that was good.
I wandered in Summer in the elm-woods of Ossiriand.
Ah! the light and the music in the Summer by the
Seven Rivers of Ossir!
And I thought that was best.
To the beeches of Neldoreth I came in the Autumn.
Ah! the gold and the red and the sighing of leaves in the
Autumn in Taur-na-neldor!
It was more than my desire.
To the pine-trees upon the highland of Dorthonion I
climbed in the Winter.
Ah! the wind and the whiteness and the black branches
of Winter upon Orod-na-Thön!
My voice went up and sang in the sky.
And now all those lands lie under the wave,
And I walk in Ambarona, in Tauremorna, in Aldalómë,
In my own land, in the country of Fangorn,
Where the roots are long,
And the years lie thicker than the leaves
In Tauremornalómeë.


I don’t often entertain such ideas, but if one of Tolkien’s characters could become incarnate, then Treebeard is the one that I would want to walk with for awhile along the paths of this world. I’d love to really hear that voice, and gaze into those eyes, those deep wells of “memory and long, slow, steady thinking.”

Hoom. :love:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 1:52 am 
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Frodo.

Without Frodo there would have been no Quest, and without the Quest there would have been no tale.

And I loved him longest. Not best, but longest.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 5:53 am 
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In my first readings of LOTR, I don't think I "got" Frodo at all. It really did feel that through him, I'd been swept into this grand tale, and I was so amazed and moved and terrified looking at everything through his eyes that I totally lost track of him. I never appreciated (or probably even noticed) how Tolkien steadily reveals more and more of Sam so that finally, in Cirith Ungol, when Frodo's thoughts become veiled, the point of view passes entirely to his servant. Until I growed up some 8) , this switch-about felt confusing.....beyond my grasp, I think. And Frodo's part in the Scouring, his fading, and his departure..........well, I fretted and I grieved, but I never understood, not really. It felt more frustrating than anything else, like I was missing something, important but hidden, in the telling of the story. I didn't understand that I had essentially lost Frodo long ago, back on the fences of Mordor.

But now I do. :(

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