Academic journal article Mythlore

Types of Heroism in the Lord of the Rings

Academic journal article Mythlore

Types of Heroism in the Lord of the Rings

Article excerpt

WHILE much has been written about J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, very little attention has been paid to Tolkien's treatment of Masculine "types." (1) A major complication in addressing the problem of the various patterns of masculine (or feminine, for that matter) heroism to be found in The Lord of the Rings is the existence in the story of several different types of heroism represented by the various Free Peoples of Middle-earth. Each of these representatives embodies a very different type of ideal masculinity for the readers. The Hobbits have a boyish quality which is a large part of their appeal, while the Wizards or at least Gandalf represent the type of the Wise Old Man. The Men in the story are usually of mature character, and driven by an almost Stoic sense of duty; they can be proud and fierce, like Boromir, but they are not wantonly cruel. They seem best to represent the masculine types of the Warrior and the King, especially in the case of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who becomes at the end of Tolkien's epic-romance an embodiment of Arthur Redivivus, of the King-Who-Returns.

Regretfully it is not possible to discuss all the varieties of heroism manifested by the various Free Peoples of Middle-earth. In this study I will confine myself to discussing four of the nine companions of the Fellowship of the Ring: the two hobbits, Sam and Frodo, and Gandalf and Aragorn.

SAM

Most readers of The Lord of the Rings identify strongly with the hobbits for natural reasons. They figure prominently in the story after all and they have an obvious boyish charm and appeal. However, even among the hobbits we are presented with a variety of types of heroism. It is Pippin and Merry, or to give them their more heroic-sounding full names Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck, who actually engage most clearly in conventional heroic activity. Each of them gets tested in baffle. Pippin plays a small but important part in the defence of Minas Tirith--his disobedience to his liege-lord Denethor at a critical moment results in the rescue by Gandalf of the wounded Faramir, Denethor's son, from the funeral pyre on which Denethor immolates himself. Pippin also fights later at the Battle of the Morannon, in which he slays a great troll. In a similar way Merry is rewarded for his disobedience to his liege-lord Theoden, when together with the shield-maiden Dernhelm/Eowyn, Theoden's sister-daughter (i.e. nie ce), he helps to slay the Chief of the Ringwraiths, the Witch-King of Angmar, at the Battle of the Pelannor Fields. Both also together with Samwise Gamgee lead the successful revolt of the hobbits against the henchmen of Sharkey/Saruman in "The Scouring of the Shire" at the end of The Lord of the Rings (Book VI.8). They retain something of their boyish spirits even after they achieve heroic status, becoming literally larger than life after drinking the entdraughts of Treebeard in the forest of Fangorn. Sam Gamgee embodies a different though not completely unrelated kind of heroism, shown primarily through his dogged "do or die" determination to serve his master and follow him even to the Cracks of Doom. For Tolkien himself Sam was "a more representative hobbit than any others that we have to see much of" (Letters 329). He even describes him as vulgar and cocksure: "Sam was cocksure, and deep down a little conceited; but his conceit had been transformed by his devotion to Frodo. He did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable-except in his service and loyalty to his master" (329). He is not totally lacking in initiative or imagination, and for a brief while after Shelob's attack on Frodo, in the chapter "The Choices of Master Samwise" (Book IV.10), when Sam thinks his master is dead, he debates whether to take the ring and go on alone and try to fulfill Frodo's quest without him:

"What shall I do, what shall I do?" he said. "Did I come all this way with him for nothing?" And then he remembered his own voice speaking words that at the rime he did not understand himself, at the beginning of their journey: I have something to do before the end. …

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