Who were the most Important Characters in the History of ME?

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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I think a very good argument can be made for solicitr's suggestion of Míriel. Tolkien was very clear that the main theme of his work was death and deathlessness (though he was talking specifically about the Lord of the Rings, I am quite confident that he would include the cycle of the Jewels and the Rings). And it was Míriel who first brought death into the equation (at least death of a sentient being). While it is true that the Valar (and particularly Manwë) attributed the advent of death to the marring of Arda by Melkor, it is equally true that Míriel's 'death' was due to her own stubborn, prideful refusal to return to her body, when the Valar were trying to decide what to do about her marriage to Finwë.

I would then add Lúthien and Arwen to the mix, because they are the two who chose mortality as the price for love, and then faced the full ramifications of that choice (the bitter as well as the sweet).

So those three would head my list.
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Post by Athrabeth »

ax wrote:For example: why does JRRT have Sam pick up the Ring as if to go on alone, but eventually decide he has to find Frodo and save him?
I think that it was the only way for him to convey "the temptation of good". Through Sam's inner vision, the reader finally gets to see just how the Ring works. We glimpse this, of course, through the words/reactions of Gandalf and Galadriel. Even poor Boromir's words to Frodo start off with how he would rally all free folk to defeat Sauron. But we never see Frodo's temptation, interestingly enough, and I think it was quite masterful of Tolkien to leave it that way. From the beginning of Book Six, Sam essentially becomes Frodo's proxy for the reader, as Frodo's inner workings are steadily and inexorably removed from us.

<still thinking about the most important character in ME's history......maybe another glass of wine would help.......> 8)
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Post by The One Ring »

Ath wrote:Through Sam's inner vision, the reader finally gets to see just how the Ring works.
Yes, that scene is one of the keenest looks at the inner life of a character that we receive anywhere in the book. From that scene we can back-calculate to what Aragorn's temptation must have been, and Boromir's and Galadriel's, etc.
But we never see Frodo's temptation, interestingly enough, and I think it was quite masterful of Tolkien to leave it that way.
I had not thought about this before, Ath, and it feels quite insightful to me.

Nor Bilbo's temptation, beyond his modest aspiration to disappear from unwanted visitors. But he did not know the Ring's power so his imagination was not fed, and he didn't often use it. It is only at the end (which is the book's beginning) that he complains of it "growing on his mind."

Frodo knew of its power soon after receiving it, and he knew that he was in personal danger. That alone must have upped the temptation. But what would he have done with it, if he had claimed it?

Part of me suspects that he might have wished to ... flee Middle Earth ... and that the reward he received at the end was well-tempered to the resistence he had shown. We saw a bit of this on the Barrow Downs: the temptation to be safe at the expense of others.

But it would be very interesting to know what other posters think Frodo's temptation might have been, because an author always invites us to identify ourselves to some extent with the protagonist.
Voronwë wrote:I think a very good argument can be made for solicitr's suggestion of Míriel.
I too think that Míriel is quite important, both for the thematic reason given by Voronwë, and because I think it could be well argued, as solicitr says, that Fëanor was defined by her absence.

Beren and Lúthien feels to me a much more personal commentary by Tolkien. The love stories of B&L, A&A both have a parenthetical quality to them, as in .... they would have existed no matter what the history of ME had been, and had they not existed the history of ME would not have been different.

Of Beren, I think it can truly be said that "if he had not done it," someone else would have. It might be that no individual would have succeeded to capture a silmaril, but the fortress of Morgoth would have been assaulted in the end, the sons of Finwë would have died, the valar would have stepped in and the silmarils would have been returned to them by different means but the gottendammerung would not have been altered. If Aragorn had not loved Arwen ... well, many things might have been different, for example, he might not have striven for the kingship ... but the quest of Frodo would have been unaltered. Gandalf would have found others to accompany him, and in the final scene there is nothing that Aragorn could do anyway that could not have been done by Éomer or Imrahiil. The line of men and elves would not have joined one last time and men would have been diminished by that perhaps, but that is not history-changing in the way that a less prideful Fëanor would have changed history. :)

Picking up on Ax's distinction, that we must consider the intention of the author in the case of fictional characters, in a sense the whole legendarium is built from the story of Beren and Lúthien because this is the personal story that motivated Tolkien himself. But because it is so personal it also stands at a certain remove from the story, I think. I would have to re-read the whole book to answer my own question definitively, but I am almost thinking that you could remove everything concerning the recovery of that one silmaril without altering the Long Defeat; in the same way that the story of Aragorn and Arwen could be removed to the appendix without altering the quest.

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Post by narya »

Frodo saw what was clearly the right thing to do - to destroy Evil, and keep his idyllic Shire, by destroying the Ring. He tried different ways to get out of it, but the burden was refused by others and remained squarely on his shoulders, by his reluctant free choice. His temptation, and it was a constant torment, was to bag it all and go home to the Shire, but he knew that if he did, all that he loved about the Shire would be ruined. When he finally returned to the Shire, and saw it laid waste by Saruman, it was a crushing blow.

Jn, I agree that Arwen is not a key to the story, and assume that's why she is relegated to the appendix.
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Post by Athrabeth »

narya wrote:His temptation, and it was a constant torment, was to bag it all and go home to the Shire, but he knew that if he did, all that he loved about the Shire would be ruined.
I have no doubt that going home to the Shire would be Frodo's strongest conscious desire, but like Sam's yearning to return to his own simple garden, that desire would be twisted and corrupted and magnified far beyond recognition by the Ring's influence. The vision that Sam sees as he stands before Mordor is all about power - the power to throw down Sauron and restore Middle-earth to a garden of beauty and bliss. Actually seeing that temptation through his eyes tells us something of the dark, corrupt thoughts that must be almost overwhelming Frodo at this stage of the quest. As a matter of fact, in "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol", we are privy to a chilling thought that passes in Frodo's mind - that he does not "yet" have the power to face the Witchking if he submits to the Ring's will and puts it on his finger. It's exactly at this stage of the story that Frodo's thoughts become veiled, and Sam becomes our eyes and ears (and heart) for the remainder of the journey.
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Post by axordil »

It's exactly at this stage of the story that Frodo's thoughts become veiled, and Sam becomes our eyes and ears (and heart) for the remainder of the journey.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. A curtain is cast across the holy of holies, and only through an intermediary can we guess at what transpires there. That, and the strange, almost mystical Wheel of Fire outburst...we cannot share in the Ringbearer's torment, only witness it with Sam, and the increasing sense of impotence is its own torment.


We're gonna have to split this discussion off soon. I can see the ruined Dome of the Stars. :D
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Post by MithLuin »

Don't sell yourself short, narya - "what about narya, dad? I want to read more posts by her" :D

Lúthien, whose line will never die out.

Fëanor, whose choices led to the History of the Silmarils.

Frodo, who (with Sam, and Gollum) destroyed the Ring.

Isildur, who stole the seed of the White Tree from the King's palace at Númenor, dealt the death-blow to Sauron, and hid the Ring in the River Anduin :P Oh, and very thoughtfully fathered a child right before the big battle.

Celebrimbor, who developed Ringlore.

Elrond, who helped everyone who needed it.

Eorl, who rode to Gondor's aid.

Finrod, who founded Nargothrond and saved Beren's life.

That's my top 10....for today :)
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Post by Old_Tom_Bombadil »

axordil wrote:The mythic history of Middle-Earth is composed of two great cycles, that of the Silmarils and that of the Rings. The first begins with Fëanor's actions and ends with Eärendil's; the second begins with Sauron's actions and ends with Frodo's (and Sam's)...
That's a very intelligent way of looking at it. :)


Aravar's list looks pretty good, although many have seemingly forgotten the importance of Gollum (whose actions inadvertantly destroyed the Ring and saved Middle-earth), Bilbo the Ring-finder, and, especially, Elrond.

Voronwë points out that Galadriel appears in both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, but Elrond appears in both of those PLUS The Hobbit. Galadriel may be more glamorous, and I personally have always loved her character, but in the grand scheme of things Elrond is far more important to the outcome of important events and the general welfare of Middle-earth.

So why exactly are Maiar excluded? I can understand excluding the Valar because--with the exception of Ulmo, Morgoth, and sometimes Oromë-- they spent nearly all their time in Valinor. But why shouldn't Maiar such as Sauron, Olórin (Gandalf), Curumo (Saruman), and Melian be considered among the most important people in Midde-earth? :?

While many adore Frodo and Sam, and they are wonderful characters and definitely important people, to my mind without a doubt the most person person in LOTR, be he Maia or no, is Gandalf.
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Post by axordil »

Tom's post got me thinking about the hidden questions within the question again. :)

Gandalf/Olórin does an immense amount of his considerable work "off-stage" as it were, and we only find out about it second-hand and after the fact. That's not only the way the character operates, but the way JRRT has to work with him, to make things flow, maintain suspense, et al.

Thus, he is more central to the history of ME than he is to the narratives of that history that we have.
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Post by Crucifer »

Old Tom is vewy important. If it hadn't been for him, the ring would still be under the barrow.

Morgoth the first dark lord, for actually being the first to go to middle earth (I think. It's ages since I read the Sil)
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Post by Old_Tom_Bombadil »

axordil wrote:Thus, he is more central to the history of ME than he is to the narratives of that history that we have.
Well said, Ax. :)

Yes, Bilbo found the Ring, Frodo carried the Ring to Mt. Doom with the aid of Sam, and received assistance from Gildor, Tom Bombadil, Strider (Aragorn), Elrond, Galadriel, and Faramir along the way, but it was Gandalf working behind the scenes that made the destruction of the Ring, an act that saved Middle-earth from destruction, possible. He delivers this wonderful explanation for his actions in a conversation with Denethor:
I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?
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Post by narya »

The reason I excluded the Maiar and Valar and Eru from "top ten characters" list is because they would have filled the top ten, since they sang the world into existence, and had powers far surpassing those of men, elves, or even Tom Bombadil.
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Post by Old_Tom_Bombadil »

Powers greater than Tom Bombadil? Are you sure? ;)

Actually, those are pretty good reasons, but as I mentioned previously the majority of the Valar and Maiar spent very little time, if any, in Middle-earth.

Unless I missed it, I think we might also want to define 'important'. 'Important' meaning have the most influence, the one who did the greatest good for the Free Peoples, the one who did the greatest for Middle-earth itself, and what have you.

As far as those having the greatest influence, I'd have to include myself with Alatar in saying that Fëanor probably had the greatest influence of any single individual.

Ironically (in terms of this question), most of Fëanor's acts--especially the creation of the Silmarils, the Oath, and the Kinslaying at Alqualondë--did not occur in Middle-earth. However, those deeds, and the Oath and the resulting Doom of Mandos in particular, followed Fëanor and his sons to Middle-earth with the ships they stole from the Teleri. As we all know the tribulation that followed as others were caught up in the Doom of Mandos was beyond catastrophic.
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Post by Dân o Nandor on Anduin »

This is a most interesting question, and one I’ve attempted to quantify if that’s at all possible. I’ve been developing a spreadsheet (now containing over a thousand Tolkien characters) which combines no less than 9 different columns/factors - namely the space (lines/words) which each character occupies in 6 different Tolkien compendiums [Foster, Tyler, Encyclopedia of Arda, Wikipedia, Day, and Drout], plus total appearances in the History of Middle-earth (UT + HoMe vols minus HoLotR), as well as (to a much lesser extent) the answers given on this thread, and a website compilation I did some years ago of favourite Tolkien characters - each lending a significant contribution into the total mix.

I’ve taken the advice of many of the posters in this thread, and have included Valar, Maiar, etc. They in fact seem to get ranked very accordingly into the mix based on total impact upon the Story of Arda, since much of their mandate is to let creation, design, and benevolent governance prevail rather than action and interference; which is why Evil appears to have a premium on this list.

The results, although full of anomalies and far from perfect in answering the question, are very intriguing IMO, especially with respect to ranking such things as the Kings of Númenor, Gondor, Rohan, etc; along with the various dwarves, hobbits, orcs, and animals; as well as the Valar, Maiar, and other vague spirits. There is inevitably an inordinate weight on those occupying heavy literary volume. Thus Nienor makes the top 100, even though she is not really an impacting personage (however I do my best to substantiate each entry in some capacity :) ).

Yes, Fastitocalon makes the top 1000, as does the Entwife Wandlimb, the River-Woman, and the Man in the Moon; and no, the Fox does not! And since appearances in HoMe is the highest weighted contributing factor, some “non-canonical” characters also appear, such as Pengolodh, Littleheart, and even Lowdham of the Notion Club. I have however enforced the caveat that no real personages are included, such as Hengest, Horsa, King Arthur, the Queens Elizabeth I & II, or Tolkien himself, although they all do appear in some fashion. But Ilúvatar does makes the list, though not at #1!

Although I’m still solidifying the latter half of the list, the top 100 has all but been cemented, so I’ll begin at 100 and count them down to #1 (he who has accumulated a total of 944pts) with commentary… for the amusement of all. :)

(And yes, working a nightshift, I do in fact have too much time on my hands :P ).

#100 [103pts] Huor father of Tuor (1A 444-472: 28yrs):
Son of Galdor the Tall Lord of the 3rd House, and younger brother of Húrin, Huor was tallest of all the Edain save his own son Tuor. He was brought with Húrin to Turgon of Gondolin by aid of the Valar, and fought for Fingon during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. Meeting Turgon in the midst of battle, Huor prophecised the coming of their grandchild Eärendil. The Folk of Hador’s helping Turgon escape the battle is considered the most renowned deed of war Men wrought in behalf of the Eldar, in which Huor was slain.

#99 [104pts] Balin son of Fundin (3A 2763-2994: 231yrs):
2nd oldest dwarf of Thorin’s company, Balin was the only one at the Mountain before the coming of Smaug. He was the company’s look-out man, and spoke for them when captured by the Elvenking; and also visited Bilbo in the Shire afterwards. Balin later led a company of dwarves into Moria, and became its renewed Lord. Slain by orcs, his tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul was discovered by the Fellowship of the Ring.

#98 [104pts] Barahir father of Beren ( 1A 402-460: 58yrs):
Heir of the House of Bëor, Barahir fought at the Dagor Bragollach, saving the Elf-king Finrod Felagund who swore an oath of friendship to him, and bestowed him his Ring, a long-serving heirloom among Men. After the battle, Barahir led a renowned band of 12 outlaws, eventually hunted by Morgoth, of which only his son Beren survived.

#97 [104pts] Idril Celebrindal mother of Eärendil (YT c.1400-?: c.8200yrs):
Born in Valinor, the only child of Turgon accompanied him into exile and Gondolin. There, she scorned her cousin Maeglin’s advances and fell in love with the man Tuor, bearing their son Eärendil. Idril helped in the escape from Gondolin, and with Tuor led the survivors at the Mouths of Sirion, before departing with him apparently to Valinor.

#96 [106pts] Arvedui 15th and last King of Arthedain (3A 1864-1974: 110yrs):
Literally named as last-king of Arnor by Malbeth the Seer, Arvedui was either set to re-establish the High-kingship of the North, or perish along with his kingdom. As it was, despite his marriage to Firiel daughter of King Ondoher of Gondor, the Council of Gondor rejected his claim. Angmar overran Arthedain, and Arvedui fled north to the Bay of Forochel where his ship and 2 palantíri were lost, but not before passing the Ring of Barahir to the chief of the Lossoth. His son Aranarth was 1st Chieftain of the Dúnedain.

#95 [106pts] Meneldil 3rd King of Gondor (2A 3318-3A 158: 281yrs):
The last Man born in Númenor, and one of the longest reigning Kings of Gondor, Meneldil is said to be most responsible for Gondor’s independence from Arnor. Isildur established him as Gondor’s King before departing North. Meneldil, shrewd and far-sighted, probably laid the groundwork for the Council of Gondor’s rejection of Arvedui’s claim to Gondor’s throne nearly 2 millennia later, keeping the Chieftains of the North at bay from the Ruling Stewards of Gondor until the time of Elessar.

#94 [103pts] Eorl the Young 1st King of Rohan (3A 2485-2545: 60yrs):
Lord of the Éothéod and hero of the Battle of the Field of Celebrant, in which he came to the aid of Gondor and was granted lands in Calenardhon by Cirion Steward of Gondor, swearing the Oath of Eorl to him. Felaróf, father of horses, submitted himself to Eorl, who established his new capital at Aldburg in the Folde. He was slain in battle with Easterlings in the Wold, after reigning 44 years beginning at the age of 16. The Rohirrim called themselves the Eorlingas, or Sons of Eorl.

#93 [106pts] Romendacil II 19th King of Gondor (3A 1126-1366: 240yrs):
Originally named Minalcar, he rose to a powerful position early as his uncle Narmacil I felt uncomfortable with the Kingship. Regent from 1240, Minalcar defeated the Easterlings near the Sea of Rhûn, and made pacts with Rhovanion fortifying Gondor. Becoming King he took the name Rómendacil East-victor. To cement an alliance with the Northmen he sent his son as ambassador, who subsequently married the daughter of their King ultimately leading to the Kin-strife. He was also responsible for the Argonath, pillars of the kings.

#92 [108pts] Tulkas Astaldo (c.40,750yrs):
Last of the Valar to enter Arda, and strongest in physical deeds, Tulkas singlehandedly forced Melkor to flee Arda in the First Battle; along with Oromë, he pursued Melkor out of Valinor after the destruction of the Trees; and as champion of the Valar, he was instrumental in the overthrow of Melkor in the War of Wrath. Tulkas was not a great counsellor or weighty thinker however, probably keeping him from inclusion among the 8 Aratar chiefs of the Valar.

#91 [108pts] Nienna (c.55,100yrs):
The sister of Mandos and Lórien, and first of the Aratar to make the list, Nienna’s providence is mourning and pity, and her greatest pupil was Gandalf. Her chief lesson is not of endless grief, but pity, hope, and endurance of spirit. Her tears bring healing, and she comforts all who dwell in the Halls of Awaiting. She has no spouse, and dwells near Mandos in far western Valinor, overlooking the Walls of Night.

Next #'s 90-81...
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Post by Alatar »

Interesting. I look forward to the rest of the Hot 100.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Wow, dna! What a project. I will certainly be interested in seeing the results.

But how come Scull and Hammond's Reader's Guide didn't make the list of sources? And how about mentions in Tolkien's letters?
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Post by solicitr »

Nor am I crazy about including David Day in the sample.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

It is certainly true that Day is not well thought of by Tolkien scholars. I was a little bit surprised to see that Rateliff included a very strongly worded repudiation of Day's work in The History of the Hobbit, basically saying that Day sometimes makes things up. I haven't read his work so I can't comment on the accuracy of that statement. But I do have a lot respect for Rateliff's scholarship.
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Post by BrianIsSmilingAtYou »

Some people asked what Frodo's temptation might have been.

(I am not actually looking up any references at this time, so I may come back and refine this. This is just the germ of the idea that I had upon contemplating what his temptation would have been.)

I have a theory that connects the nature of the rings to the nature of Frodo's temptation and why he may have been uniquely suited for the quest, since the nature of his temptation gives insight into his understanding of the ring's nature.

Tolkien once said that one of the Elves' reasons for making the rings was to preserve things, stop the flow of time, to have things as they were in memory, especially (for the Elves) the memory of Valinor (but to bring that memory alive in Middle Earth).

Frodo's temptation was along this line. To preserve to Shire, to be with Bilbo as things were before troubles began. Recall that Frodo had various dreams on his journey (I remember one near the Crossroads), where he is wandering about Bag End looking for something, but he can't remember what it is. He is looking for that memory, which he is losing in waking life, and also now in dreams.

Frodo was familiar with Elvish lore and Elvish longings from his association with Bilbo; he was also insightful in his own right. I think he understood the Elvish longing, and felt a version of it in himself.

Would he not wish perhaps to have his parents back? A vision of a lost youth? Or barring that, to have Bilbo--not to lose the Shire, not to leave Sam in the end?

I think his temptation was that he wished for these things and could have convinced himself that he could have these things if only he would turn aside, and that is the one thing that he cannot do.

Turning aside is the ultimate expression of this temptation. This is what Boromir offered him. This is what Galadriel offered him with the visions in the mirror.

His temptation is omnipresent so we do not see it, it is the fabric, the warp and woof of the tale. This is why he must believe that Gollum is capable of redemption.

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Post by narya »

That's what makes Frodo such a compelling character. We all want to go home again, on some level.
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