J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is a 1978 American animated fantasy film directed by Ralph Bakshi.[4][5] It uses a hybrid of traditional cel animation and rotoscoped live action footage.[4] It is an adaptation of the first half of the high fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings (1954–55) by English novelist J. R. R. Tolkien. Set in Middle-earth, the film follows a group of hobbitselvesmendwarves, and wizards who form a fellowship. They embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring made by the Dark Lord Sauron, and ensure his destruction. The film features the voices of William SquireJohn HurtMichael Graham Cox, and Anthony Daniels of Star Warsfame, and was one of the first animated films to be presented theatrically in the Dolby Stereo sound system. The screenplay was written by Peter S. Beagle, based on an earlier draft by Chris Conkling.

Ralph Bakshi encountered Tolkien's writing early in his career, and had made several attempts to produce The Lord of the Rings as an animated film before being given funding by producer Saul Zaentz and distributorUnited Artists. The film is notable for its extensive use of rotoscoping, a technique in which scenes are first shot in live-action, then traced onto animation cels. Although the film was a financial success, it received a mixed reaction from critics and there was no official sequel to cover the remainder of the story. Nonetheless, the film was an influence on Peter Jackson, as was detailed in the 'extras' of the DVD to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Early in the Second Age of Middle-earthelven smiths forge nine Rings of Power for mortal men, seven for the Dwarf-Lords, and three for the Elf-Kings. Soon after, the Dark Lord Sauron makes the One Ring. Following the Last Alliance of Elves and Men fell, the Ring is seized by Prince Isildur; and after Isildur was killed by orcs, the Ring lies at the bottom of the river Anduin for over 2500 years. Over time, Sauron captures the Nine Rings and creates the Ringwraiths. The One Ring is discovered by Déagol, whose friend, Sméagol, kills him and becomes Gollum (Peter Woodthorpe). Hundreds of years later, Bilbo Baggins (Norman Bird) acquires it from him.

Years later, during Bilbo's birthday celebrations in the Shire, the wizard Gandalf (William Squire) tells him to leave the Ring for Frodo Baggins (Christopher Guard). Bilbo agrees, and leaves the Shire. Seventeen years pass, during which Gandalf learns that evil forces have discovered that the Ring is in the possession of a Baggins. Gandalf meets with Frodo to explain the Ring's history and the danger it poses; and Frodo leaves his home, taking the Ring with him and accompanied by three hobbit friends, Pippin (Dominic Guard), Merry (Simon Chandler), and Sam (Michael Scholes). After a narrow escape from the Ringwraiths, the hobbits eventually come to Bree, from which Aragorn (John Hurt) leads them to Rivendell. Frodo is stabbed atop Weathertop mountain by the chief of the Ringwraiths, and becomes sickened as the journey progresses. The Ringwraiths catch up with them shortly after they meet the elf Legolas (Anthony Daniels); and at a standoff at the ford of Rivendell, the Ringwraiths are swept away by the river. At Rivendell, Frodo is healed by Elrond (André Morell). He meets Gandalf again, after the latter escapes Saruman (Fraser Kerr), who plans to ally with Sauron but also wants the Ring for himself. At a council, Bilbo, Gandalf, and others debate the One Ring, and Frodo volunteers to go to Mordor, where the Ring can be destroyed. Thereafter Frodo sets off from Rivendell with eight companions: Gandalf; Aragorn; Boromir (Michael Graham Cox), son of the Steward of Gondor; Legolas;Gimli (David Buck) the dwarf; and Frodo's three hobbit companions.

Their attempt to cross the Misty Mountains is foiled by heavy snow, and they are forced into Moria. There, they are attacked by orcs, and Gandalf falls into an abyss while battling a balrog. The remaining Fellowship continue through the elf-haven Lothlórien, but Boromir tries to take the Ring from Frodo, and Frodo continue his quest alone; but Sam insists on accompanying him. Boromir is killed by orcs while trying to defend Merry and Pippin. They are captured by the orcs, who intend to take them to Isengard through the land of Rohan. The hobbits escape and flee into Fangorn forest, where they meet Treebeard (John Westbrook). Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas try to rescue Merry and Pippin follow them into Fangorn Forest, where they are re-united with Gandalf. The four thence ride to Rohan's capital, Edoras, where Gandalf persuades King Théoden (Philip Stone) that his people are in danger. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas then travel to the Helm's Deep. Frodo and Sam discover Gollum stalking them, and capture him; but spare his life in return for guidance to Mount Doom. At Helm's Deep, Théoden's forces resist the orcs sent by Saruman, until Gandalf arrives with the absent Riders of Rohan, destroying the orc army.


Director Ralph Bakshi was introduced to The Lord of the Rings during the mid-1950s while working as an animator for Terrytoons. In 1957, the young animator started trying to convince people that the story could be told in animation.[6] In 1969, the rights were passed to United Artists, where filmmakers Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman each tried to adapt the story.[3] (Contrary to urban legend, Disney never owned the rights.[7])

In the mid-1970s, Bakshi, who had since achieved box office success producing adult-oriented animated films such as Fritz the Cat, learned of UA and Boorman's attempts to adapt the story. He was told that Boorman had planned to produce all three parts of The Lord of the Rings as a single film, and commented, "I thought that was madness, certainly a lack of character on Boorman's part. Why would you want to tamper with anything Tolkien did?"[8] When Boorman's proposed adaptation fell apart, Bakshi approached the studio and proposed that he direct a three-part animated film adaptation of the book:

"They said fine, because Boorman handed in this 700-page script, and do I want to read it? I said, 'Well, is it all three books in one?' They said, 'Yes, but he's changed a lot of the characters, and he's added characters. He's got some sneakers he's merchandising in the middle.' I said, 'No, I'd rather not read it. I'd rather do the books as close as we can, using Tolkien's exact dialogue and scenes.' They said, 'Fine,' which knocked me down, 'because we don't understand a word Boorman wrote. We never read the books. [...] We ain't got time to read it. You understand it, Ralph, so go do it.'"

he Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel written by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, much of it during World War II,[1] The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.[2]

The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron,[note 1] who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across northwest Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, the hobbits Frodo BagginsSamwise "Sam" GamgeeMeriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took, but also the hobbits' chief allies and travelling companions: the Men Aragorn son of Arathorn, a Ranger of the North, and Boromir, a Captain of GondorGimli son of Gloin, a Dwarf warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard.

The work was initially intended by Tolkien to be one volume of a two-volume set, the other to be The Silmarillion, but this idea was dismissed by his publisher.[3][4] For economic reasons The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955.[3][5] The three volumes were titled The Fellowship of the RingThe Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Structurally, the novel is divided internally into six books, two per volume, with several appendices of background material included at the end of the third volume. Some editions combine the entire work into a single volume. The Lord of the Rings has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into 38 languages.

Tolkien's work has been the subject of extensive analysis of its themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story was only the last movement of a larger epic Tolkien had worked on since 1917,[6] in a process he described as mythopoeia.[citation needed] Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, religion and the author's distaste for the effects of industrialization, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I.[1] The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great effect on modern fantasy; the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" have been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.[7]

The enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien's works,[8] and the publication of many books about Tolkien and his works. The Lord of the Rings has inspired, and continues to inspire, artwork, music, films and television, video games, and subsequent literature. Award-winning adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made forradiotheatre, and film.[9]

Plot summary

Thousands of years before the events of the novel, the Dark Lord Sauron had forged the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power and corrupt those who wear them: the leaders of MenElves and Dwarves. He was later vanquished in battle by an alliance of Elves and Men led by Elendil and Gil-galad. Isildur, a ruler of Men, cut the One Ring from Sauron's finger, claiming it as an heirloom for his line, and Sauron lost his physical form. When Isildur was later ambushed and killed by Orcs, the Ring was lost in the River Anduin at Gladden Fields.

Over two thousand years later, the Ring was found by one of the river-folk called Déagol. His friend[10] Sméagol immediately fell under the Ring's influence and strangled Déagol to acquire it. Sméagol was banished and hid under the Misty Mountains, where the Ring extended his lifespan and transformed him over the course of hundreds of years into a twisted, corrupted creature called Gollum. He lost the Ring, his "precious", and, as recounted in The HobbitBilbo Baggins found it. Meanwhile, Sauron re-assumed physical form and took back his old realm of Mordor. Gollum set out in search of the Ring, but was captured by Sauron, who learnt from him that "Baggins" in the Shire had taken it. Gollum was set loose, and Sauron, who needed the Ring to regain his full power, sent forth his powerful servants, the Nazgûl, to seize it.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The story begins in the Shire, where the Hobbit Frodo Baggins inherits the Ring from Bilbo Baggins, his cousin[note 2] and guardian. Neither is aware of its origin and nature, but Gandalf the Grey, a wizard and old friend of Bilbo, suspects the Ring's identity. When he becomes certain, he strongly advises Frodo to take it away from the Shire. Frodo leaves, accompanied by his gardener and friend, Samwise ("Sam") Gamgee, and two cousins, Meriadoc ("Merry") Brandybuck and Peregrin ("Pippin") Took. They nearly encounter the Nazgûl while still in the Shire, but shake off pursuit by cutting through the Old Forest, where they are aided by the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, who alone is unaffected by the Ring's corrupting influence. After leaving the forest, they stop in the town of Bree where they meet Strider, who is later revealed to be Aragorn, Isildur's heir. He persuades them to take him on as guide and protector. They flee from Bree after narrowly escaping another assault, but the Nazgûl follow and attack them on the hill of Weathertop, wounding Frodo with a Morgul blade. Aragorn leads the hobbits toward the Elven refuge of Rivendell, while Frodo gradually succumbs to the wound. The Ringwraiths nearly overtake Frodo at the Ford of Bruinen, but flood waters summoned by Elrond, master of Rivendell, rise up and overwhelm them.

Frodo recovers in Rivendell under the care of Elrond. The Council of Elrond reveals much significant history about Sauron and the Ring, as well as the news that Sauron has corrupted Gandalf's fellow wizard, Saruman. The Council decides that the Ring must be destroyed, but that can only be done by returning it to the flames of Mount Doom in Mordor, where it was forged. Frodo volunteers to take on this daunting task, and a "Fellowship of the Ring" is formed to aid him: Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli theDwarfLegolas the Elf, and the Man Boromir, son of the Ruling Steward Denethor of the realm of Gondor.

After a failed attempt to cross the Misty Mountains via the Redhorn Pass across the flank of Caradhras, the company are forced to try a more perilous path through the Mines of Moria, where they are attacked by the Watcher in the Water before the gate. Inside, they discover the fate of Balin and his colony of Dwarves. After repulsing an attack, they are pursued by orcs and an ancient and powerful demonic creature called a Balrog. Gandalf confronts the Balrog, but in their struggle, both fall into a deep chasm. The others escape and take refuge in the Elven forest of Lothlórien, where they are counselled by Galadriel and Celeborn.

With boats and gifts from Galadriel, the company travel down the River Anduin to the hill of Amon Hen. Boromir succumbs to the lure of the Ring and attempts to take it from Frodo. Frodo escapes and determines to continue the quest alone, though Sam guesses his intent and comes along.

The Two Towers

Orcs sent by Saruman and Sauron kill Boromir and kidnap Merry and Pippin. After agonizing over which pair of hobbits to follow, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas pursue the orcs bearing Merry and Pippin to Saruman. In the kingdom of Rohan, the orcs are slain by a company of the Rohirrim. Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn Forest, where they are befriended by Treebeard, the oldest of the tree-like Ents. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas track the hobbits to Fangorn, and encounter Gandalf, resurrected as the significantly more powerful "Gandalf the White" after his mutually fatal duel with the Balrog. Gandalf assures them that Merry and Pippin are safe. They then ride to Edoras, the capital of Rohan, where they free Théoden, King of Rohan, from the influence of Saruman's henchmanGríma Wormtongue. Théoden musters his fighting strength and rides to the ancient fortress of Helm's Deep, but en route Gandalf leaves to seek help from Treebeard.

Meanwhile, the Ents, roused from their customarily peaceful ways by Merry and Pippin, attack Isengard, Saruman's stronghold, and trap the wizard in the tower of Orthanc. Gandalf convinces Treebeard to send an army of Huorns to Théoden's aid. Gandalf and Rohirrim reinforcements arrive at Helm's Deep just in time to defeat and scatter Saruman's army. The Huorns dispose of the fleeing orcs. Gandalf then parleys with Saruman at Orthanc. When Saruman rejects his offer of redemption, Gandalf strips him of his rank and most of his powers. Pippin looks into a palantír, a seeing-stone that Saruman had used to communicate with Sauron and through which he was enslaved. Gandalf rides for Minas Tirith, chief city of Gondor, taking Pippin with him.

Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, who had been following them from Moria, and force him to guide them to Mordor. Finding Mordor's Black Gate too well guarded to attempt, they travel instead to a secret passage Gollum knows. Torn between his loyalty to Frodo and his desire for the Ring, Gollum eventually betrays Frodo by leading him to the great spider Shelob in the tunnels of Cirith Ungol. Frodo is felled by Shelob's sting, but Sam fights her off. Sam takes the Ring and leaves Frodo, believing him to be dead. When orcs find Frodo, Sam overhears them say that Frodo is only unconscious, and chases after them.

The Return of the King

Sauron unleashes a heavy assault upon Gondor. Gandalf arrives at Minas Tirith to alert Denethor of the impending attack. The city is besieged, and Denethor, deceived by Sauron, gives up hope and commits suicide, nearly taking his remaining son Faramir with him. Aragorn feels he has no choice but to take the Paths of the Dead in order to reach Gondor in time, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli and the Dúnedain Rangers from the North. There Aragorn raises an undead army of oath-breakers bound by an ancient curse that said they could not rest until they had fulfilled their vow to the king of Gondor. The ghostly army helps them to defeat the Corsairs of Umbar who are invading southern Gondor. Commandeering the ships of the Corsairs, Aragorn leads reinforcements up the Anduin to relieve the siege of Minas Tirith, and the forces of Gondor and Rohan defeat Sauron's army in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Meanwhile, Sam rescues Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol, and they set out across Mordor. In order to distract Sauron from his true danger, Aragorn leads the armies of Gondor and Rohan in a march on the Black Gate of Mordor. His vastly outnumbered troops fight desperately against Sauron's forces. Reaching the edge of the Cracks of Doom, Frodo is unable to resist the Ring any longer, and suddenly and fiercely claims it for himself. But Gollum suddenly reappears, struggles with Frodo and bites off his finger, Ring and all. Celebrating wildly, Gollum accidentally falls into the fire, taking the Ring with him; and so Frodo's mission is completed. With the destruction of the One Ring, Sauron is permanently shorn of his power, the Nazgûl perish, and his armies are thrown into such disarray that Aragorn's forces emerge victorious.

With the end of the War of the Ring, Aragorn is crowned Elessar, King of Arnor and Gondor, and marries his long-time love, Arwen, daughter of Elrond. Saruman escapes from Isengard and, seeking to carve out a new kingdom, enslaves the Shire. The four hobbits, upon returning home, raise a rebellion and overthrow him. Gríma turns on Saruman and kills him in front of Frodo's house, and is slain in turn by hobbit archers. The War of the Ring thus comes to its true end on Frodo's very doorstep.

Merry and Pippin are acclaimed heroes, while Sam marries Rosie Cotton and uses his gifts from Galadriel to help heal the Shire. Frodo, however, remains wounded in body and spirit after having borne the oppressive weight of the One Ring so long.

Several years later, accompanied by Bilbo and Gandalf, he sails from the Grey Havens west over the Sea to the Undying Lands to find peace. After Rosie's death, Sam gives his daughter the Red Book of Westmarch, containing the account of Bilbo's adventures and the War of the Ring as witnessed by the hobbits. Sam is then said to have crossed west over the Sea himself, the last of the Ring-bearers.

Main characters



  • Sauron, the Dark Lord and titular Lord of the Rings, a fallen Maia who helped the Elves forge the Rings of Power long ago
  • The Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, men enslaved by Sauron when they accepted his treacherous gifts of Rings of Power
  • The Witch-king of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl, and Sauron's most powerful servant, who commands Sauron's army
  • Saruman the White, a wizard who seeks the One Ring for himself. Originally the chief of the order of wizards of which Gandalf is also a member;[11] corrupted by Sauron through the palantír.
  • Gríma Wormtongue, a secret servant of Saruman and traitor to Rohan, who poisons Théoden's perceptions with well placed "advice"
  • Gollum, a river hobbit originally named Sméagol
  • Shelob, a giant spider who dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul
  • Durin's Bane, a Balrog dwelling beneath the Mines of Moria

Concept and creation


The Lord of the Rings started as a sequel to J. R. R. Tolkien's work The Hobbit, published in 1937.[12] The popularity of The Hobbit had led George Allen & Unwin, the publishers, to request a sequel. Tolkien warned them that he wrote quite slowly, and responded with several stories he had already developed. Having rejected his contemporary drafts for The Silmarillion, putting on hold Roverandom, and accepting Farmer Giles of Ham, Allen & Unwin thought more stories about hobbits would be popular.[13] So at the age of 45, Tolkien began writing the story that would become The Lord of the Rings. The story would not be finished until 12 years later, in 1949, and would not be fully published until 1955, when Tolkien was 63 years old.


Persuaded by his publishers, he started "a new Hobbit" in December 1937.[12] After several false starts, the story of the One Ring emerged. The idea for the first chapter ("A Long-Expected Party") arrived fully formed, although the reasons behind Bilbo's disappearance, the significance of the Ring, and the title The Lord of the Rings did not arrive until the spring of 1938.[12] Originally, he planned to write a story in which Bilbo had used up all his treasure and was looking for another adventure to gain more; however, he remembered the Ring and its powers and thought that would be a better focus for the new work.[12] As the story progressed, he also brought in elements from 'The Silmarillion' mythology.[14]

Writing was slow, because Tolkien had a full-time academic position, and needed to earn further money as a university examiner.[15] Tolkien abandoned The Lord of the Rings during most of 1943 and only restarted it in April 1944,[12] as a serial for his sonChristopher Tolkien, who was sent chapters as they were written while he was serving in South Africa with the Royal Air Force. Tolkien made another concerted effort in 1946, and showed the manuscript to his publishers in 1947.[12] The story was effectively finished the next year, but Tolkien did not complete the revision of earlier parts of the work until 1949.[12] The original manuscripts, which total 9,250 pages, now reside in the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at Marquette University.[16]


The influence of the Welsh language, which Tolkien had learnt, is summarised in his essay English and Welsh: "If I may once more refer to my work. The Lord of the Rings, in evidence: the names of persons and places in this story were mainly composed on patterns deliberately modelled on those of Welsh (closely similar but not identical). This element in the tale has given perhaps more pleasure to more readers than anything else in it."[18]

The Lord of the Rings developed as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion (particularly Roman Catholicism[19]), fairy talesNorse and general Germanic mythology,[20][21] and also Celtic,[22]Slavic,[23][24][25] Persian,[26] Greek,[27] and Finnish mythology.[28] Tolkien acknowledged, and external critics have verified, the influences of George MacDonald and William Morris[29] and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.[30] The question of a direct influence of Wagner's The Nibelung's Ring on Tolkien's work is debated by critics.

Tolkien included neither any explicit religion nor cult in his work. Rather the themes, moral philosophy, and cosmology of The Lord of the Rings reflect his Catholic worldview. In one of his letters Tolkien states, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."[19]

Some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Birmingham, where he first lived near Sarehole Mill, and later near Edgbaston Reservoir.[31] There are also hints of the Black Country, which is within easy reach of north west Edgbaston. This shows in such names as "Underhill", and the description of Saruman's industrialisation of Isengard and The Shire. It has also been suggested that The Shire and its surroundings were based on the countryside around Stonyhurst College in Lancashire where Tolkien frequently stayed during the 1940s.[32] The work was influenced by the effects of his military service during World War I, to the point that Frodo has been "diagnosed" as suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or "shell-shock," which was first diagnosed at the Battle of the Somme, at which Tolkien served.[33]

Publication history

A dispute with his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, led to the book being offered to Collins in 1950. Tolkien intended The Silmarillion (itself largely unrevised at this point) to be published along with The Lord of the Rings, but A&U were unwilling to do this. After Milton Waldman, his contact at Collins, expressed the belief that The Lord of the Rings itself "urgently wanted cutting", Tolkien eventually demanded that they publish the book in 1952.[34] Collins did not; and so Tolkien wrote to Allen and Unwin, saying, "I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff."[12]

For publication, the book was divided into three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring (Books I, The Ring Sets Out, and II, The Ring Goes South), The Two Towers (Books III, The Treason of Isengard, and IV, The Ring Goes East), and The Return of the King (Books V, The War of the Ring, and VI, The End of the Third Age, plus six appendices). This was due largely to post-war paper shortages, as well as being a way to keep down the price of the book. Delays in producing appendices, maps and especially indices led to the volumes being published later than originally hoped — on 29 July 1954, on 11 November 1954 and on 20 October 1955 respectively in the United Kingdom, and slightly later in the United States. The Return of the King was especially delayed. Tolkien, moreover, did not especially like the title The Return of the King, believing it gave away too much of the storyline. He had originally suggested The War of the Ring, which was dismissed by his publishers.[35]

The books were published under a profit-sharing arrangement, whereby Tolkien would not receive an advance or royalties until the books had broken even, after which he would take a large share of the profits.[36] It has ultimately become the second best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.[2] Only A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens has sold more copies worldwide (over 200 million) while the fourth best-selling novel is Tolkien's The Hobbit.[37][38][39]

Editions and revisions

In the early 1960s Donald A. Wollheim, science fiction editor of the paperback publisher Ace Books, claimed that The Lord of the Rings was not protected in the United States under American copyright law because Houghton Mifflin, the U.S. hardcover publisher, had neglected to copyright the work in the United States.[40][41] Ace Books then proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorized by Tolkien and without paying royalties to him. Tolkien took issue with this and quickly notified his fans of this objection.[42] Grass-roots pressure from these fans became so great that Ace Books withdrew their edition and made a nominal payment to Tolkien.[43][44] Authorized editions followed from Ballantine Books and Houghton Mifflin to tremendous commercial success. By the mid-1960s the novel had become a cultural phenomenon. Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would be published with his consent and establish an unquestioned US copyright. This text became the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, published in 1965.[43] Houghton Mifflin editions after 1994 consolidate variant revisions by Tolkien, and corrections supervised by Christopher Tolkien, which resulted, after some initial glitches, in a computer-based unified text.[45]

Posthumous publication of drafts

From 1988 to 1992 Christopher Tolkien published the surviving drafts of The Lord of The Rings, chronicling and illuminating with commentary the stages of the text's development, in volumes 6–9 of his History of Middle-earth series. The four volumes carry the titlesThe Return of the ShadowThe Treason of IsengardThe War of the Ring, and Sauron Defeated.


The novel has been translated, with various degrees of success, into at least 38 languages.[46] Tolkien, an expert in philology, examined many of these translations, and made comments on each that reflect both the translation process and his work. As he was unhappy with some choices made by early translators, such as the Swedish translation by Åke Ohlmarks,[47] Tolkien wrote a "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings" (1967). Because The Lord of the Rings purports to be a translation of the fictitious Red Book of Westmarch, with the English language representing the Westron of the "original", Tolkien suggested that translators attempt to capture the interplay between English and the invented nomenclature of the English work, and gave several examples along with general guidance.


While early reviews for The Lord of the Rings were mixed, reviews in various media have been, on the whole, highly positive and acknowledge Tolkien's literary achievement as a significant one. The initial review in the Sunday Telegraph described it as "among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century."[48] The Sunday Times echoed this sentiment, stating that "the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them."[48]The New York Herald Tribune also seemed to have an idea of how popular the books would become, writing in its review that they were "destined to outlast our time."[49] W. H. Auden, an admirer of Tolkien's writings, regarded The Lord of the Rings as a "masterpiece", further stating that in some cases it outdid the achievement of John Milton's Paradise Lost.[50]

New York Times reviewer Judith Shulevitz criticized the "pedantry" of Tolkien's literary style, saying that he "formulated a high-minded belief in the importance of his mission as a literary preservationist, which turns out to be death to literature itself."[51] Critic Richard Jenkyns, writing in The New Republic, criticized the work for a lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fibre."[52] Even within Tolkien's literary group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed.Hugo Dyson complained loudly at its readings.[53][54] However, another Inkling, C. S. Lewis, had very different feelings, writing, "here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart." Despite these reviews and its lack of paperback printing until the 1960s, The Lord of the Rings initially sold well in hardback.[6]

In 1957, The Lord of the Rings was awarded the International Fantasy Award. Despite its numerous detractors, the publication of the Ace Books and Ballantine paperbacks helped The Lord of the Rings become immensely popular in the United States in the 1960s. The book has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, judged by both sales and reader surveys.[55] In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted in Britain by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's best-loved book." In similar 2004 polls both Germany[56] and Australia[57] also found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite book. In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium."[58] The Lord of the Rings was awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2009.


Although The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s, Tolkien insisted that the One Ring was not an allegory for the Atomic Bomb,[59] nor were his works a strict allegory of any kind, but were open to interpretation as the reader saw fit.[60][61]

A few critics have found what they consider to be racial elements in the story, generally based upon their views of how Tolkien's imagery depicts good and evil, characters' race (e.g. Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, SouthronNúmenórean, Orc); and that the character's race is seen as determining their behaviour.[62][63][64] Counter-arguments note that race-focused critiques often omit relevant textual evidence to the contrary,[65][66][67] cite imagery from adaptations rather than the work itself;[68] ignore the absence of evidence of racistattitudes or events in the author's personal life[65][68][69] and claim that the perception of racism is itself a marginal view.[69]

Critics have also seen social class rather than race as being the determinant factor for the portrayal of good and evil.[65] Commentators such as science fiction author David Brin have interpreted the work to hold unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure.[70] In his essay "Epic Pooh", science fiction and fantasy author Michael Moorcock critiques the world-view displayed by the book as deeply conservative, in both the 'paternalism' of the narrative voice and the power-structures in the narrative.[71] Tom Shippey cites the origin of this portrayal of evil as a reflection of the prejudices of European middle-classes during the inter-war years towards the industrial working class.[72]

Other observers have cited Christian and Catholic themes in The Lord of the Rings.[73]

The book has been read as fitting the model of Joseph Campbell's "monomyth".[74]


The Lord of the Rings has been adapted for film, radio and stage.

The book has been adapted for radio four times. In 1955 and 1956, the BBC broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a 12-part radio adaptation of the story. In the 1960s radio station WBAI produced a short radio adaptation. A 1979 dramatization of The Lord of the Ringswas broadcast in the United States and subsequently issued on tape and CD. In 1981, the BBC broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a new dramatization in 26 half-hour instalments. This dramatization of The Lord of the Rings has subsequently been made available on both tape and CD both by the BBC and other publishers. For this purpose it is generally edited into 13 one hour episodes.

Two film adaptations of the book have been made. The first was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1978), by animator Ralph Bakshi,[75] the first part of what was originally intended to be a two-part adaptation of the story; it covers The Fellowship of the Ringand part of The Two Towers. A three-issue comic book version of the movie was also published in Europe (but not printed in English), with illustrations by Luis Bermejo. When Bakshi's investors shied away of financing the second film that would complete the story, the remainder of the story was covered in an animated television special by Rankin-Bass. Stylistically, the two segments are very different. The second and more critically and commercially successful adaptation was Peter Jackson's live action The Lord of the Ringsfilm trilogy, produced by New Line Cinema and released in three instalments as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). All three parts won multiple Academy Awards, including consecutive Best Picture nominations. The final instalment of this trilogy was the second film to break the one-billion-dollar barrier and won a total of 11 Oscars (something only two other films in history, Ben-Hur and Titanic, have accomplished), including Best PictureBest Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Hunt for Gollum, a fan film based on elements of the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, was released on the internet in May 2009 and has been covered in major media.[76]

Born of Hope, written by Paula DiSante, directed by Kate Madison, and released in December 2009, is a fan film based upon the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.[77]

In 1990, Recorded Books published an audio version of The Lord of the Rings,[78] with British actor Rob Inglis – who had previously starred in his own one-man stage productions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – reading. A large-scale musical theatre adaptation, The Lord of the Rings was first staged in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2006 and opened in London in May 2007.


Influences on the fantasy genre

The enormous popularity of Tolkien's epic saga greatly expanded the demand for fantasy fiction. Largely thanks to The Lord of the Rings, the genre flowered throughout the 1960s, and enjoys popularity to the present day. The opus has spawned many imitators, such as The Sword of Shannara, which Lin Carter called "the single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have ever read".[79] Dungeons & Dragons, which popularized the role-playing game (RPG) genre in the 1970s, features many races found in The Lord of the Rings, most notably halflings (another term for hobbits), elves (who are distinct from dark elves, following Tolkien's example), dwarves, half-elvesorcs, and dragons. However, Gary Gygax, lead designer of the game, maintained that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings, stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the popularity the work enjoyed at the time he was developing the game.[80]

Because D&D has gone on to influence many popular role-playing video games, the influence of The Lord of the Rings extends to many of them as well, with titles such as Dragon Warrior,[81][82] the Ultima series , EverQuest, the Warcraft series, and the Elder Scrollsseries of games[83] as well as video games set in Middle-earth itself.

Research also suggests that some consumers of fantasy games derive their motivation from trying to create an epic fantasy narrative which is influenced by The Lord of the Rings.[84]


In 1965, songwriter Donald Swann, who was best known for his collaboration with Michael Flanders as Flanders & Swann, set six poems from The Lord of the Rings and one from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil ("Errantry") to music. When Swann met with Tolkien to play the songs for his approval, Tolkien suggested for "Namárië" (Galadriel's lament) a setting reminiscent of plain chant, which Swann accepted.[85] The songs were published in 1967 as The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle,[86] and a recording of the songs performed by singer William Elvin with Swann on piano was issued that same year by Caedmon Records as Poems and Songs of Middle Earth.[87]

In 1988, Dutch composer and trombonist Johan de Meij completed his Symphony No. 1 "The Lord of the Rings", which encompassed 5 movements, titled "Gandalf", "Lothlórien", "Gollum", "Journey in the Dark", and "Hobbits". In 1989 the symphony was awarded theSudler Composition Award, awarded biennially for best wind band composition. The Danish Tolkien Ensemble have released a number of albums that feature the complete poems and songs of The Lord of the Rings set to music, with some featuring recitation byChristopher Lee.

Rock bands of the 1970s were musically and lyrically inspired by the fantasy embracing counter-culture of the time; British 70s rock band Led Zeppelin recorded several songs that contain explicit references to The Lord of the Rings ("Ramble On", "The Battle of Evermore", "Over the Hills and Far Away", and "Misty Mountain Hop"). In 1970, the Swedish musician Bo Hansson released an instrumental concept album based on the book titled Sagan om ringen (translated as "The Saga of the Ring", which was the title of the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings at the time).[88] The album was subsequently released internationally as Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings in 1972.[88] The songs "Rivendell" and "The Necromancer" by the progressive rock band Rush were inspired by Tolkien. Styx also paid homage to Tolkien on their "Pieces of Eight" album with the song "Lords of the Ring," while Black Sabbath's song, "The Wizard", which appeared on their debut album, was influenced by Tolkien's hero, Gandalf. The heavy metal band Cirith Ungol took their name from a mountain pass in Middle-earthProgressive rock group Camel paid homage to the text in their lengthy composition "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider", and Progressive rock band Barclay James Harvest was inspired by the character Galadriel to write a song by that name, and used "Bombadil", the name of another character, as a pseudonym under which their 1972 single "Breathless"/"When the City Sleeps" was released; there are other references scattered through the BJH oeuvre.

Later, from the 1980s to the present day, many heavy metal acts have been influenced by Tolkien. Blind Guardian has written many songs relating to Middle-earth, including the full concept album Nightfall in Middle Earth. Almost all of Summoning's songs and the entire discography of Battlelore are Tolkien-themed. Gorgoroth and Amon Amarth take their names from an area of Mordor, and Burzum take their name from the Black Speech of Mordor. The Finnish metal band Nightwish and the Norwegian metal band Tristaniahave also incorporated many Tolkien references into their music. A Swedish metal band, Sabaton, based their song "Shadows" on the nine ring wraiths.[89] American heavy metal band Megadeth released two song titled This Day We Fight! and How the Story Endswhich were both inspired by the Lord of the Rings series, particularly Aragorn's speech in the third film for the latter song.[90]

Enya wrote an instrumental piece called "Lothlórien" in 1991, and composed two songs for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring—"May It Be" (sung in English and Quenya) and "Aníron" (sung in Sindarin).

Impact on popular culture

The Lord of the Rings has had a profound and wide-ranging impact on popular culture, beginning with its publication in the 1950s, but especially throughout the 1960s and 1970s, during which time young people embraced it as a countercultural saga.[91] "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President" were two phrases popular amongst United States Tolkien fans during this time.[92]

Parodies like the Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings, the VeggieTales episode "Lord of the Beans", the South Park episode "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers", the Futurama film "Bender's Game", The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "Lights! Camera! Danger!", The Big Bang Theory episode "The Precious Fragmentation", and the American Dad! episode "The Return of the Bling" are testimony to the work's continual presence in popular culture.

In 1969, Tolkien sold the merchandising rights to The Lord of The Rings (and The Hobbit) to United Artists under an agreement stipulating a lump sum payment of £10,000[93] plus a 7.5% royalty after costs,[94] payable to Allen & Unwin and the author.[95] In 1976, three years after the author's death, United Artists sold the rights to Saul Zaentz Company, who now trade as Tolkien Enterprises. Since then all "authorized" merchandise has been signed-off by Tolkien Enterprises, although the intellectual property rights of the specific likenesses of characters and other imagery from various adaptations is generally held by the adaptors.[96] Outside any commercial exploitation from adaptations, from the late 1960s onwards there has been an increasing variety of original licensed merchandise, from posters and calendars created by illustrators such as Pauline Baynes and the Brothers Hildebrandt, to figurines and miniatures to computer, videotabletop and role-playing games. Recent examples include the Spiel des Jahres award winning (for best use of literature in a game) board game The Lord of the Rings by Reiner Knizia and the Golden Joystick award-winning massively multiplayer online role-playing gameThe Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar by Turbine, Inc..

The Lord of the Rings has been mentioned in numerous songs including The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins by Leonard NimoyLed Zeppelin's Misty Mountain HopOver the Hills and Far AwayRamble On, and The Battle of EvermoreGenesis' song "Stagnation" (fromTrespass, 1970) was about Gollum, and Argent included the song "Lothlorien" on the 1971 album Ring of Hands.

Steve Peregrin Took (born Stephen Ross Porter) of British rock band T. Rex took his name from the hobbit Peregrin Took (better known as Pippin). Took later recorded under the pseudonym 'Shagrat the Vagrant', before forming a band called Shagrat in 1970.


Themes of The Lord of the Rings

Since the publication of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, a wealth of secondary literature has been published discussing the literary themes and archetypes present in the story. Tolkien also wrote about the themes of his book in letters to friends, family and fans, and also in the book itself. In his Foreword to the Second Edition, Tolkien said that he "disliked allegory in all its forms" (using the word applicability instead), and told those claiming the story was a metaphor for World War II to remember that he had lost "all but one" of his close friends in World War I.


"No careful reader of Tolkien's fiction can fail to be aware of the polarities that give it form and fiction,"[1] writes Verlyn Flieger. Tolkien's extensive use of duality and parallelism, contrast and opposition is found throughout the novel, in hope and despair, knowledge and enlightenment, death and immortality, fate and free will. One famous example is the often criticized polarity between Evil and Good in Tolkien. Orcs, the most maligned of races, are a corruption of the mystically exalted race of the Elves. Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery, home of the Lord of the Nazgûl, the most corrupted King of Men, directly opposes Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard and the capital of Gondor, the last visible remnant of the ancient kingdom of Men in the Third Age.

The antitheses, though pronounced and prolific, are sometimes seen to be too polarizing, but they have also been argued to be at the heart of the structure of the entire story. Tolkien's technique has been seen to "confer literality on what would in the primary world be called metaphor and then to illustrate [in his secondary world] the process by which the literal becomes metaphoric."[1]

Death and immortality

Tolkien wrote about The Lord of the Rings and death in his Letters:[2]

"But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!" (Letter 203, 1957)
"It is mainly concerned with Death, and Immortality; and the 'escapes': serial longevity, and hoarding memory." (Letter 211, 1958)[3]

Throughout the story, death is referred to as the "gift (and doom) of Man," given by Ilúvatar (God), while immortality is the gift given to the Elves. The Elves never die of old age and are resistant to disease and such, though they can be slain in battle or die by similar means; however, even when they die they only go to the Halls of Mandos in Aman, and eventually can be "reincarnated" into life. As such they are bound to the world, and as a result they wane in prominence, and can grow weary of the world and wish to escape it. In contrast, Tolkien leaves the fate of Men uncertain. This leads to some form of fear for Men, who do not understand what truly happens at death and thus fear it as a result.

Throughout The Lord of the Rings (and related Middle-earth works), humanity dealing with death is prominent. The desire to escape death is shown to lead to evil—the Rings of Power promising immortality to Men, yet in the process turned them into Ringwraiths, undying but not truly living either. The people of Númenor, though blessed with life longer than that of most humans, envy the immortals and try to conquer Aman from the Valar, leading to the destruction of the land. The Elves, too, struggle with their lot, and their immortality shows them watching the decline of their lands and world.

Loss and farewell

From the beginning of Tolkien's mythos, there has been a consistent theme of great beauty and joy failing and disappearing before the passage of time and the onslaught of the powers of evil. Fëanor, prince of the Noldor, first loses his father and then his greatest creations, the Silmarils, through the machinations of the evil Morgoth. By his fault Elven blood is for the first time spilled on the ground of Eldamar and the Noldor give away both their home and their innocence. Mandos, the Doomsayer himself, proclaims judgement over the Noldor and reveals to them that none of them shall find peace or rest until their oath has been fulfilled or their souls come to the House of Spirits.

Finally, in one of the appendices to The Return of the King, after more than two hundred years of life Aragorn dies in his deathbed, leaving behind a lonely and now-mortal Arwen, who travels to what is left of Lothlórien to herself die on a flat stone next to the river Nimrodel, having returned to one of the few places of true happiness she knew in her life.

This theme is seen in the weight of the past borne in the language of the whole novel[4] and in specific portions, such as Gilraen's linnod[5] and the Lament of the Rohirrim.[6]

Tolkien insisted that The Lord of the Rings was not to be seen as a parallel to World War II and that the key chapter had been written long before 1939. He wrote however in the preface to The Fellowship of the Ring that witnessing the onset of World War I in 1914 was "no less hideous an experience" than being involved in the second great war of 1939, and mentions that he had lost all but one of his close friends by 1918.[7]

The Lord of the Rings centres around the corrupting influence of the One Ring. This theme is discussed at length by Tom Shippey in chapter III of J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. In this chapter, titled, "The Lord of the Rings (2): Concepts of Evil" (pp 112–160), Shippey notes that what lies at the heart of the story is the assertions made by Gandalf about the power and influence of the One Ring, and the corrupting influence it has on its bearers. Gandalf rejects the Ring after Frodo offers it to him, and this view of the nature of the Ring is reinforced as ElrondGaladrielAragorn and Faramir in their turn, also reject the Ring. This is, according to Shippey, a very modern, 20th-century theme, since in earlier, medieval times, power was considered to "reveal character", not alter it. Shippey mentions Lord Acton's famous statement in 1887, that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men..." He then goes on to point out authors that were dealing in the same themes of power and corruption at around the same time as Tolkien wrote his work. These authors include George Orwell with Animal Farm (1945), William Golding with Lord of the Flies (1954) and The Inheritors (1955), and T. H. White with The Once and Future King (1958).

Shippey's critics have argued that the theme of power's ability to alter one's character is not limited to the 20th century, pointing to the use of the "ring" as a symbol of power in much older works such as those of Plato in the 4th century BCE. In The Republic, Glaucon argues that doing justice to others is never to one's benefit; he cites the mythical Ring of Gyges, a ring which could make any man who wore it invisible and thus able to get away with any theft or other crime. Glaucon claims that such power would corrupt any man, and that therefore no man truly believes that acting justly toward others is good for him.[8]

Critics of Tolkien's use of this theme include Colin Manlove, who addresses the theme in his book Modern Fantasy (1975). Manlove points out that Tolkien is not consistent in his attitude towards power, for there are exceptions to the supposedly overwhelming influence of the Ring. The Ring can be handed over relatively easily (Sam and Bilbo), and removing the Ring by force (Gollum to Frodo) does not, despite Gandalf's assertion at the beginning of the story, break Frodo's mind. The Ring also appears to have little effect on characters such as MerryPippinAragornLegolas and Gimli.


Shippey counters Manlove's assessment by characterising the use of the Ring as addictive, with successive uses increasing the hold the Ring had over its bearers. Those who are not susceptible to the addiction would not be affected. It has also observed, that while the ringbearers may become "obsessed and possessive of it to the point of insanity",[9] not all characters are equally subject to this addiction. E.g. Bilbo, while holding and using the Ring for a long time, is able to give it away while Boromir becomes obsessed of the Ring although he never possessed it.[10]

The influence of the One Ring has also been compared to drug addiction. An "inner addiction" to the Ring has been attributed to Gollum,[11] and he shows many traits of an addict like withdrawing himself and becoming suspicious and angry at anyone. But also Bilbo and Frodo have been found to exhibit signs of an essential addiction to the One Ring.[12]


Tolkien's criticism of technology has been observed by several authors. Pienciak notes that technology is only employed by the forces of evil in Tolkien's works and that he found it to be one of "the evils of the modern world: ugliness, depersonalization, and the separation of man from nature."[13] Examples of this technophobia have been indemnified in the palantíri, the seeing stones, and in the last chapter "The Scouring of the Shire". Initially built by the elves as a good-natured means of communication, the Palantíri have been turned into instruments of evil by Sauron, and whatever industrial technology was imported by Saruman's minions to replace the traditional crafts of the Shire hobbits was seen as an evil threat and eventually removed after his downfall.[14]


Courage in the face of certain defeat is a recurring theme in Tolkien's literature. As he wrote in The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien was inspired by the apocalyptical Norse legend of Ragnarök where the gods know they are doomed in their final battle for the world, but they and their allies go to fight anyway. This "northern courage" as he called it is seen in the fate of Frodo and Samwise who have little prospect of returning home from their mission to Mount Doom and in Aragorn's decision to march to the Black Gate to divert Sauron's forces from the two Hobbits.[15]

Another kind of courage was defined by Tolkien in the difference between humility and the arrogant desire for glory. While Sam follows Frodo out of loyalty and would die for him, a trait that Tolkien has praised in an essay on The Battle of Maldon, characters like Boromir are driven by pride and would risk the lives of others for their personal glory. Likewise the rejecting of the ring by Sam, Faramir, and Galadriel can be seen as a courageous rejection of power and glory and of the personal renown that defeating Sauron would have brought about.[16]

Fate and Free Will

Gandalf in one scene discusses the possibility that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and that Gollum has an important part to play, the clearest testament to the role of fate in The Lord of the Rings. Beyond Gandalf's words, the story is structured in such a way that past decisions have a critical influence on current events. For instance, because Bilbo and Frodo spared Gollum, Gollum was able to destroy the Ring by falling into the Crack of Doom while Frodo failed to destroy it. Thus Frodo, who is overpowered by the evil Ring, is saved by coincidence.[17]

The role of fate in The Lord of the Rings is contrasted sharply with the prominent role also given to choice and free will. Frodo's voluntary choice to bear the Ring to Mordor is seen to be an act central to the plot of the whole story. Also important is Frodo's willing offer of the Ring to Gandalf, Aragorn, and Galadriel, and their willing refusal of it, not to mention Frodo's final inability to summon the will to destroy it. Thus, free will as well as fate is seen to be a constant theme throughout the story: from Sam's vision of old Gaffer Gamgee's wheelbarrow and the Scouring of the Shire in the Mirror of Galadriel, to Arwen Evenstar's choice of mortality.[18]


Professor Peter J. Kreeft identifies a theme of divine providence.[19] This is hinted at when Gandalf says that a hidden power was at work when Bilbo found the ring, attempting to return to its master.

Christ figures

While Prof. Kreeft observes that there is no one complete, concrete, visible Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings (such as Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia series), he and author Jean Chausse have identified reflections of the figure of Jesus Christ in three main characters of The Lord of the Rings: Gandalf, Frodo and Aragorn. While Chausse found "facets of the personality of Jesus" in them, Kreeft wrote that "they exemplify the Old Testament threefold Messianic symbolism of prophet (Gandalf), priest (Frodo), and king (Aragorn)."[19][20] The interpretation of Gandalf as a prophet is shared by Mark Stucky, who also sees this character as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. It may also be noted that Gandalf falls in the ''''Mines of Moria'''', not unsimilar to Moriah, the mount upon which Isaac is to be sacrificed to God. Isaac, as his sacrifice foreshadows that of Christ, parallels that of Gandalf, who fell to save his companions, as Christ did for the human race.[21]

One of the most obvious Christian themes in Tolkien's writings is, of course, the resurrection of Gandalf, who had to sacrifice everything-even his years of plans, efforts, and his very hopes that the Dark Lord might be defeated-in order to secure the safety of the Fellowship.[22]

Also the motif of hope can be found in Aragorn's successful handling of Saruman's palantír. Only Aragorn as the heir of Isildur can rightfully use the seeing stone while Saruman and Denethor, who have both also made extensive use of a palantír, have become despaired or presumptive. These latter traits have been identified as one of the traditional sins "against the virtue of Hope."[23]

Other Christian themes found throughout Tolkien's works of fantasy include the doctrines of monotheism and divine providence, and the redemptive and penitential nature of suffering (cf. Boromir's atoning for his assault on Frodo by singlehandedly but vainly defending Merry and Pippin from orcs, or the dreadful ordeal of Sam and Frodo in Mordor).[22]


20 Ways The Lord of the Rings Is Both Christian and Catholic

Thanks to the vision and persistence of Kiwi filmmaker Peter Jackson and the financial backing of Warner Brothers' New Line Cinema, these great stories are now becoming accessible to millions more around the world.

Tolkien had hoped that others would come after him and like other myths adapt the Middle-earth stories to make them both applicable and accessible to new generations. Peter Jackson is doing that, and by most accounts doing it well. The third and last film in the series will be released December 2003.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." [1] By design The Lord of the Rings is not a Christian allegory but rather an invented myth [2] about Christian and Catholic truths. But that presents a problem for filmakers. Because the Christian"

Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

"and when it comes to movies, audiences must SEE everything and anything that is important to the story. So, the conflict cannot be something the protagonist engages on purely a spiritual or emotional level — such as guilt, forgiveness, justification, or redemption. The source of the conflict has to be visible. 

Luckily — no, let's make that Providentially — Tolkien spent a life time sub-creating (as he called it) a Middle-earth that contains physical entities representing all that is good and bad in our Earthly journeys. There are Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Wizards, Hobbits, Ents, Trolls, Wraiths, Uruk-hais and at least one Balrog — all with their own languages, culturs, history, and myths — to mix it up with humans in a grand and epic battle with evil. 

But a battle against evil alone does not make The Lord of the Rings fundamentally Christian and Catholic; and yet there are many ways that it is. Below are a few of these and one that is unique to Jackson's films. Can you tell which one it is?

A Christian Myth

Here are some of the ways The Lord of the Rings is a Christian myth.

  1. Darkness pervades Middle-earth where man, beast and nature are called to an adventure full of peril and hope. Here is how Elijah Wood explains the film's dominant theme: â??No matter how bad things are, no matter how much evil there is in this world, there is always some good worth fighting for, worth standing up for, and worth some effort in carrying on.â? [3]

  2. The One Ring illustrates how evil can entice and enslave. Beautiful gold rings are enticing to wear. But when we slip them on our fingers we announce our devotion and loyalty to their owner. 

  3. Gandalf and Saruman, while not analogous, have traits, goals, and experiences similar to those of Jesus and Satan.Gandalf is even tempted in a battle with Saruman not unlike Christ is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. 

  4. Evil is parasitic and can only destroy that which was created. Everything that Ilúvatar (God) created in Middle-earth (and in our world) is good. It is the perversion and corruption of what was created that is evil. Good can exist on its own. Evil can only live off what is good. 

  5. Like all Chritians, Frodo is called to risk his life through great peril to save others. Frodo, like us, does not appear to be up to the task. He does not have any obvious talent suited for war. But he is chosen, as we are. We are all necessary for God's grand plan to be fulfilled; and even the most unlikely and disgusting Gollum-like beast in our life is necessary. And when Frodo asks, "What can a little hobbit do?" — Isaiah answers, "A little child will lead them" (11:6).

  6. In the Shire, the Hobbits come naturally to living a beatific life that Christ calls Christians to live by. The Hobbits are the meek that inherit the earth, the merciful who receive mercy, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. (Mt. 5:3-12) 

  7. Like all Christians, Tolkien's characters are called to play roles in a story tht is much greater and more important than they are aware. Just as we are not aware of all that has happened before us, [4] so Gandalf, at the end of The Hobbit, says to Bilbo, "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? "you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!" 

  8. There is a longing for the return of the king. As Christians long for the return of Christ the King, so the free people of Middle-earth long for their kingdoms to be once more united in peace and justice under the rightful heir. Did I mention that Aragorn looks like Christ?

  9. The Fellowship of the Ring is constituted of different characters with different gifts suited for battling evil — the diversity keeps them united. This is not unlike the diversity of spiritual gifts and temporal talents given to the different members of the Christian community for the unity of the body — so that we might be dependent on each other.

  10. Upon leaving Lorien, each of the Fellowship members are given custom fitted Elvish hooded cloaks not unlike St. Paul's amour in Ephesians 6:10-17. Again, Tolkien disliked allegory; so the cloaks are not exactly like St. Paul's amour of salvation. But they do have mystical traits of great aid that keep them safe in their battle with evil. 

    A Catholic Core

    The Lord of the Rings is also Catholic.

  11. Tere are sacraments not symbols. For their journey, Galadriel graciously bestows upon the Fellowship — a representation of the church — seven mystical gifts; no mere symbols these, but glimmering reflections of the Church's seven sacraments — the conveying of spiritual grace through temporal rites. And at her Mirror, Galadriel derides the Reformers' taunt of Eucharistic magic in the Mass when she says: "For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same words for the deceits of the enemy." (353)

  12. As grace and creation is experienced through a sacrament, so control and destruction is experienced through an anti-sacrament — the One Ring. The ring that Frodo bears is not symbolic, but rather operates as an anti-sacrament. Dependent on a person's spiritual disosition, a sacrament literally allows grace and life to flow into a person through the physical realm. Likewise in Middle-earth, the characters' spiritual disposition makes them more or less susceptible to the anti-sacrament power of the ring, which if worn, literally brings evil and destruction upon the bearer.

  13. The protagonists pursue absolutes, rejecting any willingness to compromise or relativize. In Middle-earth there is an absoluteness of what is right and wrong. There is no hint of moral relativism that separates the different peoples, races, or creators of the freelands. Aragorn says to Eomer: "Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among men." (428)

  14. The protagonists embrace suffering as a requirement of working out their salvation. It isn't enough to simply believe or have faith To be free of the tyranny of evil each of our protagonists must sacrifice, and work hard through great peril to secure their salvation and the right ordering of their world. 

  15. The Shire, described as the ideal community, reflects the social teachings of Catholicism. The Hobbits benefit from a community structure with little formal organization and less conflict. They work only enough to survive and otherwise enjoy each other's company. There is no jealousy, no greed, and rarely does anyone do anything unexpected. There is a wholeness and graciousness about it that seems to come naturally out of selflessness. 

  16. Gandalf, the steward of all things good in the world, reflects the papacy. Gandalf is leader of the free and faithful. He is steward of all things good in the world, but he claims rule over no land. As the Popes of history di with kings and emperors of our world, so Gandalf crowns the king and blesses him to rule with justice and peace. 

  17. Middle-earth ideology reflects a corporate moral hierarchy and not individualism. There is no democracy or republic in Middle-earth. There are spiritual leaders like Gandalf, and Kings like Theoden and Elessar with lords and vassals. There is no defense of individualism, no claim of choice, and no justification for an individual to follow his conscience. 

  18. There is a mystical Lady, like The Blessed Mother, who responds miraculously to pleas for help.The Lady is named Varda (or in Elvish, Elbereth or star-queen) and although she is never seen, she's is described as holy and queenly; and when her name is invoked — "O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! — as Frodo and Sam do on occasion, miracles follow that protect the quest and defeat the present enemy.

  19. The sign of the cross.At the end of the first movie (and the beginning of the second book) Aragorn kneels beside the mortally wounded Boromir — and as he dies, Aragorn makes a rudimentary sign of the cross touching first his forehead and then his lips. It is a salute to Avatar, the One who created all. 

  20. There is a last sharing of cup and bread, not unlike O.T. manna and its fulfillment in The Eucharist.Before the Fellowship departs from Lorien, Galadriel bids each to participate in a farewell ritual and drink from a common cup. More significant is the mystical Elvish food given to the fellowship — lembas or waybread. A small amount of this supernatural nourishment will sustain a traveler fo many days.

    All of this should make viewing or reading The Lord of the Rings a more interesting and insightful experience for both Christians and Catholics. A fuller description of these themes can be found in the following books that were used for this article.


J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth. Bradley Birzer, 2003. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.
Tolkien: A Celebration. Collected writings on a literary legacy. Edited by Joseph Pearce, 1999. San Francisco: Ignatius.
Finding God in The Lord of the Rings. Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, 2001. Wheaton: Tyndale House. 
Tolkien: Man and Myth. A literary life. Joseph Pearce, 1998. San Francisco: Ignatius.


  1. While Tolkien has written that in sub-creating these stories his allegiance was to Christ and the Church, Jackson's allegiance was to Tolkien. Jackson made this comment to a group of Christian writers: "We wanted to honor Tolkien and obviously he was a very spiritual person. We've taken an approach of never trying to put in our own message or our own baggage into these films. We want the films to respect him and what he was about." (Interview, New York City, December 4, 2002) 

  2. To Tolkien, myths are true because they are part of our God created imagination, and because they bring us "such joy [that] has the very taste of primary truth." To Tolkien the story of Jesus Christ is a "true myth." When Tolkien shared this concept with C.S. Lewis during an afternoon walk, Lewis felt "a rush of wind that came so suddenly," and within days proclaimed his belief in Christ, becoming one of Christianity's most effective apologists. (See also Tolkien's essay, On Fairy-Stories.)

  3. Interview, New York Cit, December 4, 2002.

  4. Read The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by his son Christopher, also the Appendix that immediately follows the third part of the trilogy: The Return of the King.



Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The King vs. the Steward

At the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth is weak and disunited, with little trust existing among the various races. Dissension plagues the different human kingdoms, and one of the main problems is that the true leaders are not in their rightful positions. In The Return of the King, Théoden of Rohan proves himself to be a good, noble leader when he heeds Gondor’s cry for help, but he was not always so effective. For a while, a spell cast by Sauron incapacitated him, and his kingdom was effectively ruled by the evil wizard Saruman. Even after Théoden’s strength is restored, he is incapable of uniting all humanity. Only the king of Gondor can do that.

Until the conclusion of the trilogy, Gondor is without a king. The throne is instead occupied by the steward Denethor, a weak-willed man who seems to be losing his mind. The perilous state of Denethor’s sanity suggests the weakness of Gondor when it is ruled by a steward rather than a king. Boromir, Denethor’s son and heir to the stewardship, also displays considerable moral weakness when he attempts to steal the ring from Frodo. Aragorn, the true heir to the throne and the future king of Gondor, is able to resist the temptation of the ring. Just as Saruman had to be cast out of Rohan to restore that kingdom to strength, the real king of Gondor must assume his throne for that kingdom to thrive. Throughout the trilogy, this tension between true leader and acting leader means the difference between life and death, success and defeat, and unity and dissent among the people of Middle-earth.

The Limits of Fellowship

Though the fellowship is integral to the success of Frodo’s mission, it cannot make the entire journey with Frodo or help him at the journey’s end. The fellowship serves as a kind of backup for Frodo, keeping enemies at bay and Middle-earth as calm as possible so he can fulfill his mission. Frodo must ultimately make the journey with only the company of Sam. The entire fellowship is committed to Frodo’s success, but their roles are ultimately limited by the nature of the task at hand. The journey is such that only the two small hobbits are capable of making it successfully.

The nature of the ring itself puts its own limits on fellowship. The ring is a heavy burden for whoever carries it, and it forces its bearer into tremendous isolation. Gollum was a victim of the ring, and his peaceful life as a hobbit ended when he gave in to its temptation. He retreated into a cave and became isolated from the world. The ring isolates Frodo, too, even though Sam accompanies him. While the entire fellowship is in great danger, only Frodo is haunted by visions of Mordor and Sauron. He is unable to share this torment with the others, so it becomes the very basis of his isolation. At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel tells Frodo that bearing the ring is a solitary task, prompting him to leave the others. Though Sam refuses to leave Frodo alone and gives him much comfort, he remains blind to his friend’s inner torment. Even after the ring is destroyed, Frodo remains isolated. He is unable to readjust to life in the Shire and eventually leaves the other hobbits behind. His experience as ring-bearer has permanently isolated him from his peers.

The Shire As a Fantasy of Home

At the very start of their journey, Sam notes to Frodo that they have just passed the spot that marks the farthest he’s ever before been from home, the first of many thoughts the hobbits will have about home and their distance from it. Nostalgia for home, even to the point of homesickness, plagues Frodo and Sam throughout their journey, and Sam speaks of it most often. When Sam and Frodo travel to Mordor, Frodo’s intense focus on the journey to Mount Doom is balanced by Sam’s focus on the return journey. The Shire is a lush, happy place untouched by the tumult disturbing much of Middle-earth and, compared to the rocky, dangerous terrain Frodo and Sam face on their journey, seems for them a kind of paradise. However, their talk of returning to the Shire is rooted in more than the physical Shire itself. The Shire suggests a childlike innocence, which the hobbits left behind with the very first step of their journey. It also suggests a different kind of life, where hobbits live simply, unworried, and free from war, greed, evil, death, and all the other vices and hardships that complicate life in much of Middle-earth. In Frodo’s and Sam’s memories, the Shire becomes a sort of Eden, where life was perfect and could be perfect again, if they can only get back. The thought of returning animates them and gives them strength in their darkest moments.

The paradise of the Shire, however, is an illusion. Though the Shire remains lush and the hobbits who live there remain happy and joyful, especially when Frodo and Sam return, the innocence and ignorance Frodo and Sam once enjoyed in the Shire are gone forever. They have seen and experienced too much, and they have become adults now, with many painful memories. Though Sam adapts to his new status in the Shire and thrives in the happiness it offers, Frodo cannot regain a sense of equilibrium even being back at home. Returning to the Shire had seemed to promise the end of fear and worry, but Frodo must journey on.


Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Frodo and Sam’s destination is Mordor, specifically the volcanic Mount Doom, in which they intend to destroy the ring of power. Though their journey is hard, their destination is almost always in sight, at the edge of the horizon. However, actually reaching Mordor proves to be extremely difficult. The hobbits frequently find themselves going in circles. When they finally arrive at Mordor, Faramir captures them and brings them back to Osgiliath. Later, Gollum leads them back to the gates of Mordor, only to propose a different way in. Sam and Frodo seem to be always on their way to Mordor, but they never quite arrive. Mordor is the place that drives their every action and the goal they hold above all else. The closer they get, the further off Mordor seems, and their journey takes on epic proportions, outlasting two tremendous battles.

The journey to Mordor is fraught with setbacks not only because Mordor is located in difficult terrain and guarded by dangerous monsters, but also because this journey represents another journey, a spiritual quest that Frodo, as well as Sam and other characters, must undertake. This journey takes Frodo to a private Mordor, the dark core of his soul, where even his pure heart is no match for the temptations of the ring. The many delays in the journey to the actual Mordor suggest the many trials and tribulations Frodo must face in confronting his internal Mordor. The hobbits eventually reach Mordor, and Frodo faces his inner darkness. Though he returns to the Shire, the Mordor he’s seen within himself precludes his journey coming to a completely peaceful end.

The Temptation of the Ring

The temptation of the ring is the motivating force behind every action in The Lord of the Rings, whether characters are fighting the temptation, nurturing it, denying it, or preventing someone else from giving in to it. Characters of every race pursue the ring. The ringwraiths and Sauron seek it constantly. Gollum attacks Frodo several times to try to take it from him. The sons of Denethor, Boromir and Faramir, both try to take it from Frodo. The ring tempts Gandalf and Galadriel, each of them drawn to the thought of the immense power it could give them. Even pure-hearted Sam briefly wonders how it would be to possess the ring. No one, apparently, is immune to its temptation, and Frodo is no exception. Though he is chosen as ring-bearer because he is most resistant to the ring’s lure, Frodo must constantly fight his desire for it. He is sometimes tempted to hand it over to his more powerful friends, while at other times he wants to keep it for himself. When he finally arrives at Mount Doom, Frodo elects to keep the ring, despite the tremendous anguish it has caused him. At no other moment in the trilogy is Frodo more tempted by the ring’s power. Frodo gives up the ring only because Gollum appears and fights him for it, a fight that leads to its destruction. The ring that has possessed so many and that has served as a kind of connective tissue among all the races of Middle-earth is ultimately destroyed by its own power.


The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy about a journey, but this large journey consists of many smaller journeys that advance the greater one. Individuals and groups are constantly setting off for someplace, to pursue a goal of their own, rescue someone, or escape. Merry and Pippin engage in an unintentional journey when they join forces with Frodo and Sam early in The Fellowship of the Ring. Aragorn takes many dramatic journeys across Middle-earth on his horse, a Lone-Ranger-type figure taking the brave and necessary steps to save his people. Gollum journeys with Frodo and Sam and also within his own conflicted soul. The elves journey to their land of immortality, though Arwen elects to remain behind—her own journey will be one that leads her to Aragorn and a mortal life. The last time we see Frodo in The Return of the King, he is embarking on yet another journey, this time with the elves, to pursue his next adventure. A constant feeling of movement stretches through all three films, and, though the destinations are always clear, the journeys often seem to have no end in sight.


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, water serves as a lifesaving force for the good beings of Middle-earth. Gandalf and Aragorn are saved from death after long falls when they land in bodies of water. When Arwen races to Rivendell on horseback with a badly injured Frodo, she escapes the pursuing ringwraiths when they are flooded by water. Similarly, Saruman's tower loses its power when its plain is flooded. Water also suggests the afterlife. The elves depart Middle-earth on a boat and sail out to a great body of water. When Boromir dies, his dead body is placed on a pyre and sent down a river. Although he is dead, this journey suggests that he will live on in the memory of others.

The Ring

The ring is the center of the trilogy, and it gains multiple, changeable meanings as Frodo’s journey proceeds. Created by the evil Sauron, it is at first synonymous with its maker’s evil power. Those who encounter the ring are overcome with longing for power over others, and the ring could give more power to Sauron. For all, the ring suggests the dangerous urges that lurk even in the most pure-hearted beings of Middle-earth. It also suggests slavery and weakness, since whoever gives in to the temptation of the ring becomes a slave to it. Gollum is an example of what happens physically when one succumbs to the ring. Man, too, is weak, and Isildur failed to destroy the ring in Mordor. The fact that weakness affects every race of Middle-earth shows the extent of the ring’s power.

As the trilogy proceeds, new symbols emerge to counteract the temptation of the ring. The sword Anduril suggests good and unity, rather than evil and disunity. When Elrond presents the sword to Aragorn, he says that the fate of Arwen has been linked to the fate of the ring: as the ring grows stronger, she grows weaker. Arwen, therefore, serves as a kind of symbol herself, the very opposite of Sauron: the anti-ring, the symbol of hope and good.

Mount Doom

Mount Doom is both the birthplace of the ring and the place where it can be destroyed. This is Frodo’s ultimate destination, and it also presents him with his greatest challenge. Destroying the ring is in many ways more difficult than reaching Mount Doom, and twice we see characters fail when faced with the task. Isildur, after defeating Sauron’s armies, enters the fiery mountain intending to destroy the ring, but at the last moment he turns back and decides to keep it for himself. When Frodo brings the ring to Mount Doom, he, too, intends to destroy it, but like Isildur, he decides at the last minute to keep it. Though the ring is ultimately destroyed after Frodo and Gollum’s struggle for it, Frodo did not let it go on his own. Though he passes many tests on his journey, Frodo fails in this final test at Mount Doom. Mount Doom in this case suggests the darkness and weakness that exists even in the most pure-hearted, a lure so powerful that even the most determined voyager needs additional help to resist temptation. Mount Doom also marks the furthest Frodo gets from the security and familiarity of the Shire. He is as out of place at Mount Doom as the ring was in the Shire, and this is the place where Frodo comes closest to actually giving himself over to evil.

The Lord of the Rings: From Novels to Films

One of the most remarkable aspects of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is its faithfulness in spirit and detail to the J. R. R. Tolkien novels on which the films are based. Books and movies tell stories in vastly different ways, and one of their primary differences is length. Novels often tend to contain more information than a two- or three-hour movie can possibly cover, and short stories are frequently used as the basis for film adaptations instead. When a director chooses to turn a novel into a movie, he or she must often eliminate or de-emphasize important subplots. Clocking in at over nine hours, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is much longer than the usual feature film, but Tolkien’s trilogy, plus the related novels The Hobbit and The Silmarillion,is itself long, spanning thousands of pages. Jackson’s ability to capture the diversity and richness of Middle-earth’s lands and peoples is therefore a substantial achievement. Jackson is evidently a reverential reader of the original books and did not want to deviate too much from Tolkien’s vision. In a sense, Jackson’s faithfulness to the books was necessary for the trilogy’s success. Dedicated readers of The Lord of the Rings are the book world’s equivalent of Trekkies: they are archivists of obscure, trivial details, even protective of these details. If Jackson had disappointed them, he would have lost a crucial audience and perhaps even caused a public relations mess. Tolkien fans, however, generally love the films.

Despite Jackson’s careful dedication to the novels, some differences do exist between the books and the films. In order to turn thousands of pages into roughly nine hours of film, Jackson had to simplify the original story by eliminating or changing certain characters. For example, Tom Bombadil, a significant character in the novel version of The Fellowship of the Ring, is absent from the movies. As a hard-to-classify godlike creature, he may have required more explanation than a fast-paced film could make time for. Crucial scenes involving Bombadil are therefore missing, including one in which the four hobbits come across a cache of elf weapons, weapons that prove important when Merry uses an elf sword to slay the witch-king, which cannot be killed by a human, in The Return of the King. Jackson works around Bombadil, however, to get the same information across. He gives the hobbits their weapons more directly: Aragorn gives the hobbits a sack of weapons on the hill called Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The book-to-movie adaptation also affects the elf princess Arwen, but instead of dropping out of the film altogether, she actually takes on the characteristics of two characters from the novel. Arwen appears in the novels but plays a less significant role than she does in the films. The movie Arwen is a combination of the novel Arwen and an elf warrior named Glorfindel. In the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, Arwen rescues Frodo after he’s been stabbed by a wraith and whisks him safely on horseback to Rivendell, with the wraiths in close pursuit. By giving Arwen this role, which Glorfindel carries out in the novel, Jackson does much more than simplify his story: he portrays Arwen as a heroine. This rescue is our first impression of her, and her bravery and strength in this scene balance out the more subdued role of delicate princess that she plays later, as she idles in Rivendell wondering whether to choose a mortal or immortal life. Her courage in saving Frodo puts her in the same league as the warrior-princess Éowyn.

Despite these changes, the essence of Tolkien’s novels remains intact. Jackson’s decision to forgo the obscure, extra details that round out the author’s trilogy didn’t lessen the thematic and narrative meat of Tolkien’s work, and the conflation or elimination of characters from the novels ultimately does not change the story very much. The films and the novels are not interchangeable, but the films prove as faithful as they can be to the novels without testing the limits of viewers’ patience and attention.

Analysis of Major Characters


The descendent of Isildur, Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, but at the beginning of the trilogy, he hides this identity and pretends to be a ranger named Strider. That Aragorn does not claim his throne, and that the steward Denethor rules Gondor, show the disunity and weakness of man at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. However, Aragorn is not king because he is not yet ready. As much as the trilogy tells of Frodo’s inner steadfastness before constant temptation, it also tells of Aragorn’s transformation from ranger to king. He must grow into his position as king, and his own journey proves vital not only for his rightful coronation but for the very survival and growth of the kingdoms of man. He gains confidence and self-awareness through his courageous support of Frodo and the rest of the fellowship, as well as from his love of Arwen.

Four main points mark Aragorn’s path to becoming king. When he publicly pronounces his identity during the initial meeting of the fellowship, he rouses the jealousy of Boromir, who is heir to the steward of Gondor. Aragorn’s pronouncement and its effects show that the human race does not yet accept Aragorn as king. Aragorn demonstrates his increasingly strong leadership role when he shows conviction and strength before the leaders of Rohan, a second human kingdom he will someday rule. Elrond’s gift to Aragorn of the sword Anduril shows that the elves recognize that Aragorn is king and is ready to lead the battle against Sauron. Finally, and most important, Aragon fully embraces his role as king when he demands the fealty of the men of the mountain, who will obey only the king of Gondor. With this act, Aragorn commits himself to the role of king and gains his first followers. When Aragorn is finally officially crowned, the ceremony is only symbolic—Aragorn has already proven himself to be the true and rightful king.


Though in many ways Frodo is an ordinary hobbit, happy to live among his friends and family in the Shire, his pure, incorruptible heart sets him apart not only from other hobbits but also from the other races of Middle-earth and makes him the ideal candidate to deliver the ring of power to Mordor. Frodo’s mission to destroy the ring involves a treacherous journey and countless dangers, such as orcs, volcanoes, and wraiths, and in facing these obstacles he is no different from the other eight members of the fellowship. However, his task involves much more than this perilous journey to Mordor. His real challenge is to bear the ring without giving in to its temptations. This resistance is Frodo’s inner journey, in which his pure heart is constantly under assault by his darker yearnings for power. The ring tempts others in the fellowship, however good and pure they are. Gandalf, Aragorn, Sam, and Bilbo all have their eyes widen when the ring is before them, and their own weaknesses, despite their often remarkable physical strength, prove how difficult a task for Frodo carrying the ring really is. The difficulty makes his success all the more impressive.

Though the ring is eventually destroyed at Mount Doom, Frodo does not let the ring go on his own, and the destruction of the ring is more an act of chance than an act of will. At the last minute, Frodo is overcome by the ring and gives in to its power, and only in a final struggle with Gollum is the ring torn away from him. In this sense, Frodo fails in his task. However, since no one in Middle-earth was better equipped to carry out the mission than Frodo was, perhaps Frodo’s final struggle suggests that the task would have been impossible for any individual to accomplish without the intervention of luck or providence. Frodo is a hero, certainly, but in many ways the entire fellowship is as responsible for the victory as Frodo himself is.

Frodo carries himself throughout the trilogy with composure and calm, hardly ever flagging in his optimism and dedication to the task at hand, and only when he returns to the Shire and fails to readjust to life there does he reveal how traumatized he has been by the journey. Frodo’s journey took him beyond the point of no return, and though the memory of the Shire was what kept him going in the darkest moments, he cannot actually go back. Like Bilbo, Frodo feels compelled to write down his adventures, but even this does not put him at ease. Ultimately, he departs Middle-earth with the elves, a final gesture that suggests that although Frodo did not actually die during his efforts, he did pay for his journey with his life in the Shire.


While most of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings are either good or evil, the wretched creature Gollum constantly struggles between the two. Gollum was once a good hobbit named Sméagol, and this past identity comes to represent Gollum’s good side, the part of him that loves and wants to help his “master,” Frodo. However, Sméagol the hobbit had a glaring weakness. During a fishing trip, his companion found the ring in the water, and Sméagol wanted it so much that he killed the other hobbit to get it. This heinous act eventually transformed Sméagol into the slimy, hunched Gollum who follows Frodo. Gollum, the dark side of Sméagol, covets the ring, which he calls “my precious,” so much that he is willing to kill for it again. Gollum and Sméagol struggle with each other, often arguing about what course of action to take and how far to go to gain possession of the ring. The evil Gollum side usually wins, and in the trilogy, Gollum serves as a symbol of how the ring can transform a basically decent person into a dirty, smelly, swamp creature.

Gollum serves as a foil to Frodo, his physical presence implicitly emphasizing the younger hobbit’s strength and purity. However, Gollum is not pure evil—that distinction goes to Sauron. Instead, Gollum is pure servility, and this characteristic unites both his good and dark sides and allows him to function as a guide for Frodo. The opposite of servility—strength of character and individual will—become those qualities that a good ring-bearer must have, qualities that Frodo clearly has in abundance.


Sam views Frodo much as Frodo views the ring, as something to be protected and guided to a final destination, and Sam’s dedication makes him one of the most important members of the fellowship. While Aragorn is the star fighter of the group, it is Sam who proves the most indispensable to Frodo, and the two are so isolated in their journey that they usually don’t know what the other members of the fellowship are doing or facing. Though the other members make it possible for Frodo and Sam to continue on their journey, Sam himself makes it possible for Frodo to carry on. Sam takes his responsibilities as Frodo’s companion very seriously, and he upholds his vow never to leave Frodo even when circumstances are at their most dangerous. When an exhausted Frodo falters near the end of The Return of the King, Sam literally carries his friend the rest of the distance to Mount Doom. Sam is loyal as well as pure, and this purity helps him resist the power of the ring. Sam has countless opportunities to steal the ring from Frodo, but he takes it only when he believes Frodo is dead. He returns the ring with little hesitation, a selfless act that suggests that had Frodo actually died, Sam would have had the strength to carry out the destruction of it on his own.

Frodo’s strength at times seems almost otherworldly, but Sam’s is very much of the world, and this distinction becomes clear at the end of The Return of the King. While Frodo struggles to readjust to normal life in the Shire, Sam thrives. He bravely approaches the woman he has always loved, marries her, and soon is a father of two. The journey to Mordor gave Sam new confidence and maturity, and our final glimpse of him shows him to be on his way to a long, happy life. Frodo, however, has been changed by the journey in a way the Shire can no longer accommodate, and his only option is to leave.

Character List

Aragorn - 

Played by Viggo Mortensen

The heir to the throne of Gondor. Though Aragorn is the rightful king of Gondor, he travels under an assumed identity at the beginning of the trilogy: he is a ranger, known as Strider. The fact that he is not upon the throne reveals the weak state of the kingdoms of men. As the trilogy proceeds, Aragorn shows himself to be a noble leader with a pure heart. He is relatively unaffected by desire for the ring and routinely throws himself in harm’s way to ensure the fellowship’s survival. In love with the elf princess Arwen, he fights for her survival and for the successful return of the ring to Mordor. He becomes increasingly comfortable asserting his royal identity, but only when he addresses the men of the mountain in The Return of the King does he actually declare himself king of Gondor. By the time he is crowned king at the end of the final film, he has proven himself to be a worthy leader.

Arwen - 

Played by Liv Tyler

An elf princess and Aragorn’s future queen. Like many characters in the trilogy, Arwen must make a sacrifice. She must choose between the immortal life of the elves and a mortal life with Aragorn, whom she loves. Not only does she choose the latter path, which goes against her father’s wishes, but she also encourages Elrond to stay in Middle-earth until its future is secure. At the end of the trilogy, she marries Aragorn and becomes queen of Middle-earth. Based on a vision Arwen has of the future, we know the couple will eventually have a child.
Bilbo - 

Played by Ian Holm

Frodo’s uncle, who possesses the ring at the beginning of the trilogy. Bilbo is a playful old hobbit, but he is restless and covetous of his ring. His unsettled feelings suggest how great a burden it is to carry the ring and foreshadow the great travails that await Frodo. Bilbo never realizes that his ring is the one ring of power. Like Gandalf and Frodo, he is invited to depart with the elves at the end of The Return of the King.
Boromir - 

Played by Sean Bean

The heir to the steward of Gondor. More than any other member of the fellowship of the ring, Boromir is the victim of desire for the ring. At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, he attacks Frodo to try to take it from him. Later, Boromir attempts to make up for this slip by fighting the oncoming army of Uruk-hai. He is killed in battle, but his bravery allows the other members of the fellowship to survive.
Denethor - 

Played by John Noble

The steward of Gondor. The ruler of Gondor in the absence of the proper king, Denethor has grown corrupt and weak-minded. He is reluctant to give up power should the real king return. Lamenting the death of his oldest and most beloved son, Boromir, he is cruel to his second son, Faramir, and sends him off into an unwinnable battle. When Faramir returns unconscious but alive, Denethor insists that his son is dead and builds a funeral pyre. Gandalf and Pippin save Faramir, and only Denethor burns.
Elrond - 

Played by Hugo Weaving

Ruler of the Rivendell elves and Arwen’s father. Though Elrond is sympathetic to the goals of the fellowship, his primary concern is the safety of his elf subjects. The elves face a choice: they can leave Middle-earth for immortal life, or they can delay their departure and contribute to the fight against Sauron. Elrond has a low opinion of men, as he was with Isildur when the king failed to destroy the ring of power. For this reason and because of his concerns about Arwen’s life, he is reluctant to aid in the fight against Sauron. Eventually, he commits himself to the ancient alliance of men and elves, sends an army to defend Rohan, and reforges Isildur’s sword for Aragorn.

Éomer - 

Played by Karl Urban

Théoden’s nephew and the leader of the riders of Rohan.
Éowyn - 

Played by Miranda Otto

Théoden’s niece. Éowyn falls in love with Aragorn, but he cannot return her love. Though Théoden has commanded her not to, she rides into battle with Merry and kills the witch-king.
Faramir - 

Played by David Wenham

Younger son of Denethor, the steward of Gondor. Faramir is forever living in the shadow of Boromir, his older brother and Denethor’s favorite. When he learns that Sam and Frodo have the ring, he wants to bring them to Gondor, thinking the ring will help protect the kingdom. Eventually, he reconsiders his plan and sets the two hobbits free. Faramir fights bravely against Sauron’s army, even riding into an impossible battle in order to impress Denethor. He manages to survive, but only barely, and Denethor comes close to burning him alive on a funeral pyre.
Frodo - 

Played by Elijah Wood

The ring-bearer and protagonist of the trilogy. A young hobbit, Frodo is chosen by the wizard Gandalf to return the ring to Mordor. The ring offers terrible temptation to anyone who comes near it, and though Frodo on occasion succumbs to its power, he generally shows remarkable strength before its siren call. However, when it comes time to drop the ring into Mount Doom, he is unable to simply let the ring go. Only because the ring is torn loose in Frodo’s struggle with Gollum does it fall into the fiery pit of lava below, which suggests that Frodo is a very fallible hero. Unlike the three other hobbits, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, Frodo is unable to readjust to life in the Shire upon his return. In this way, he resembles his uncle Bilbo, a former owner of the ring who is forever restless. The ring has a great effect on Frodo, changing him from an ordinary hobbit of exceptional qualities into someone extraordinary. He becomes a legend and eventually leaves the land of living mortals for immortal life with the elves. Despite Frodo’s success in returning the ring to Mordor, in some ways he is the least memorable character in the trilogy. In three epic films full of battles, he is a reserved, physically small, and ineffective fighter.

Read an in-depth analysis of Frodo.

Galadriel - 

Played by Cate Blanchett

An elf queen known as the Lady of the Woods. Galadriel is the leader of the Sylvan elves. She offers spiritual aid to Frodo, giving counsel and encouraging him during the dark moments of his quest. She gives him a star of light that proves essential to Frodo when he is betrayed by Gollum and trapped in the spider Shelob’s webs.
Gandalf - 

Played by Ian McKellen

A grandfatherly wizard. Gandalf is the first to understand the dangers that Bilbo’s ring poses, and his knowledge sets the whole trilogy in motion. Gandalf selects quiet Frodo to carry the ring and the bumbling Sam to be Frodo’s protector, and these hobbits seem unlikely choices for such a dangerous mission. Here and elsewhere, Gandalf exhibits a remarkable wisdom and insight into hobbits and men alike, and he seems to see potential and ability where others do not. Gandalf is affable, slow, and deliberate, but he is also a skilled fighter. His battles with Saruman and in the mines of Moria are heroic, and the Moria fight in particular provides the others in the fellowship with a model for the sacrifice their quest may require of them. The others assume Gandalf has died in this battle, but he returns, transformed from a gray wizard into a white one. Gandalf is often playful, but he is also deeply concerned about the fate of Middle-earth and always prepared to fight for its safety. At the end of the trilogy, he leaves with Bilbo, Frodo, and the elves for immortal life. Though this wizard seems human, he has always been a little different and a little better than any man could possibly be.
Gimli - 

Played by John Rhys-Davies

A bearded, ax-wielding warrior dwarf. Gimli is a brave and loyal member of the fellowship of the ring.
Gollum - 

Played by Andy Serkis

A wretched swamp creature who covets the ring. Before becoming obsessed with the ring, Gollum was a hobbit named Sméagol. His transformation into the disgusting, raw-fish-eating Gollum serves as a cautionary tale about the evil effects of the ring. Both Gollum and Sméagol are vastly different from Frodo. Gollum is a living reminder of a possible alternate life for Frodo, and, while Frodo is incorruptible, Sméagol is weak-willed and criminal. From the moment he first laid eyes on the ring, Sméagol was obsessed with it, and years later it is still Gollum’s sole reason for living. Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Mordor, and his intentions are constantly suspect. Usually he seems to be waiting for an opportunity to steal the ring, but at times he appears to be a faithful servant, won over by Frodo’s generous spirit. His desire for the ring eventually wins out, and this desire ultimately leads to the destruction of the ring and his own death at Mount Doom. As is Sauron’s, Gollum’s identity is tied up with the ring. Whereas Sauron is pure evil, however, Gollum is pure weakness. He is always the ring’s victim.

Read an in-depth analysis of Gollum.

Haldir - 

Played by Craig Parker

An elf leader. Haldir is killed defending Rohan, which suggests the larger sacrifice the elves have made by choosing to defend the human kingdom.
Isildur - 

Played by Harry Sinclair

The former king of Gondor. Isildur once defeated the forces of Sauron and came to possess the ring of power. He went to Mount Doom to destroy the ring, but at the last moment decided to keep it, a fateful decision that breathed new life into Sauron, allowing him to wage war on Middle-earth a second time.
King of the Dead - 

Played by Paul Norell

The ruler of the men of the mountain. The men of the mountain reneged on a pledge to the king of Gondor and were cursed to suffer eternal servitude for their transgression. The King of the Dead listens to Aragorn when he requests their help. Aragorn succeeds in enlisting the ghostly army for his battle and says they will be free of their pledge when the battle for Middle-earth is over. When the forces of Sauron are defeated, the men of the mountain simply disappear.
Legolas - 

Played by Orlando Bloom

A boyish elf. Thanks to Legolas’s skill with a bow and arrow, his kill number is consistently higher than Gimli’s. Like his dwarf friend, he is a brave and loyal member of the fellowship of the ring.
Merry - 

Played by Dominic Monaghan

A mischievous and courageous hobbit. Like Pippin, his best friend, Merry is a rabble-rouser and troublemaker. However, he proves himself to be a fearless fighter at the great battle of Minas Tirith, when he helps Éowyn slay the witch-king.
Pippin - 

Played by Billy Boyd

A mischievous hobbit. If Sam and Frodo are necessary members of the fellowship, chosen to carry the ring because of their essentially incorruptible spirits, Pippin and Merry are the accidental fellowship members, who come on the journey because they happen to bump into the other two. Pippin is playful and enjoys a good party, but his carelessness also causes many problems. When he steals the seeing stone from Gandalf, he alerts Sauron to the party’s whereabouts. He tries to atone for this error by pledging fealty to Denethor.
Sam - 

Played by Sean Astin

Frodo’s best friend and constant companion. If Frodo’s burden is to carry the ring, Sam’s is to carry Frodo, which he literally does as the two finally struggle up Mount Doom. Sam is Frodo’s loyal friend, as committed as Frodo is to returning the ring and keeping the Shire safe. Considering his proximity to the ring, Sam is remarkably immune to its call. Sam himself carries the ring for a short time, and, if necessary, could probably have completed the mission on his own. When the four hobbits return to the Shire at the end of The Return of the King, Sam emerges from Frodo’s shadow. He approaches the woman he’s been dreaming about, and soon they are married. Within little time he is a father of two, with a nice house and garden. Back in the Shire, Frodo suffers, but Sam thrives. Sam is no less pure a soul than Frodo, but his purity is one rooted in his own world, not in a world beyond. His life represents the mortal life lived to the fullest. Immortality holds no charm for him, and he wants nothing more than to thrive in the present.

Read an in-depth analysis of Sam.

Saruman - 

Played by Christopher Lee

A wizard who joins forces with Sauron. A former friend of Gandalf, Saruman has been tempted by evil and has allied with Sauron. At his mighty tower, Orthanc, he creates countless Uruk-hai, monsters that terrorize Middle-earth.
Théoden - 

Played by Bernard Hill

The king of Rohan. Initially, Théoden is an elderly, decrepit king nearly out of his mind, doing the bidding of his evil advisor, Wormtongue. His insanity and decrepitude, however, are both symptoms of his being under the spell of Saruman. When Saruman’s spell is overthrown and Wormtongue, Saruman’s disciple, is banished, Théoden becomes a strong, gray-bearded leader. He bravely leads his people in defense of Helm’s Deep and shows his true mettle when he answers Gondor’s call for help, despite the bad feeling between the two kingdoms of men. Théoden dies in battle but proves himself a worthy king.
Treebeard - 

Voiced by John Rhys-Davies

A friendly Ent who becomes Merry and Pippin’s protector. Ents are walking, talking trees who are well intentioned but generally pacifist. The Ents decide to join the battle against Sauron’s forces when they come upon a patch of scorched forest, which they blame on the orcs. The Ents defeat Saruman and flood the fields around his tower, Orthanc.
The Witch-king - 

Played by Lawrence Makoare

One of Sauron’s most feared warriors. Unable to be killed by men, the witch-king is eventually felled by Éowyn, a woman, with the help of Merry, a hobbit.
Wormtongue - 

Played by Brad Dourif

A disciple of Saruman. The frightfully pale Wormtongue is evil but weak. He serves as advisor to the ailing Théoden and uses the king’s weakened state to advance his own agenda. When he wields power in Rohan, he banishes Théoden’s nephew, Éomer. Soon thereafter, he himself is banished when Saruman’s spell on Théoden is broken and Théoden sees Wormtongue’s true evil.

Plot Overview

The Fellowship of the Ring

The film begins with a summary of the prehistory of the ring of power. Long ago, twenty rings existed: three for elves, seven for dwarves, nine for men, and one made by the Dark Lord Sauron, in Mordor, which would rule all the others. Sauron poured all his evil and his will to dominate into this ring. An alliance of elves and humans resisted Sauron’s ring and fought against Mordor. They won the battle and the ring fell to Isildur, the son of the king of Gondor, but just as he was about to destroy the ring in Mount Doom, he changed his mind and held on to it for himself. Later he was killed, and the ring fell to the bottom of the sea. The creature Gollum discovered it and brought it to his cave. Then he lost it to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

The movie cuts to an image of the hobbits’ peaceful Shire years later, where the wizard Gandalf has come to celebrate Bilbo’s 111th birthday. The party is an extravagant occasion with fireworks and revelry, and Bilbo entertains children with tales of his adventures. In the middle of a rambling speech, however, he puts on the ring, which makes him invisible, and runs to his house to pack his things and leave the Shire. Gandalf meets Bilbo back in his house and tells him he must give up the ring. Eventually Bilbo agrees to entrust it to his nephew Frodo. Gandalf senses that the ring is gaining power over Bilbo. We see a flash of Mordor, and hooded horsemen, the ringwraiths, leave its gates. The scene shifts to Gandalf, who rushes to a library to sift through ancient scrolls. As the ringwraiths begin to close in on Bilbo’s house, Gandalf returns to Frodo and throws the ring into Bilbo’s hearth. Mysterious letters appear on the ring’s surface. Only then does Gandalf realize that this ring is actually Sauron’s ring. Gandalf explains to Frodo that the ring and Sauron are one. He longs to find it, and it longs to find him. Gandalf has learned that Sauron has kidnapped Gollum and that Gollum has revealed that Bilbo has the ring. The ring must leave the Shire or it will endanger all the hobbits. Gandalf cannot take it himself, since as a wizard he will wield too much power with the ring. He determines that Frodo must take it. Gandalf explains that if Frodo puts on the ring, it will draw Sauron’s agents to it. Suddenly, Gandalf discovers that Frodo’s friend Sam has been hiding outside and listening to Gandalf and Frodo. At first, Gandalf is furious at Sam’s eavesdropping, but then he recruits Sam to be Frodo’s travel partner and protector.

Sam and Frodo leave Bilbo’s house, and in very little time they have ventured further from the Shire than ever before. Merry and Pippin, two mischievous hobbits who are fleeing a farmer from whom they’ve stolen, encounter Sam and Bilbo and join their party. The ringwraiths ride by, and the hobbits narrowly escape detection. Frodo is tempted to put on the ring, but Sam stops him. This urge is Frodo’s first insight into the power and temptation of the ring.

The hobbits arrive at the town of Bree and enter the inn known as the Prancing Pony, where they are supposed to meet Gandalf, but the wizard isn’t there. The ring accidentally slips onto Frodo’s finger, alerting the ringwraiths to his whereabouts. A ranger named Strider introduces himself to the group of hobbits and urges them to be more careful. The wraiths arrive at the hotel, but the hobbits, thanks to Strider, are well hidden. Strider explains to them that the wraiths were formerly the nine human kings who had the nine human rings. They are hunting the ring because finding it is the only way they can come back to life.

Meanwhile, Gandalf has approached another wizard, Saruman, for counsel. Saruman already knows about the ring and Sauron’s attempts to regain power. He declares that Mordor cannot be defeated and that the two wizards must join with Sauron. Gandalf protests, and the wizards battle. Saruman wins and imprisons Gandalf atop Saruman’s giant tower in Isengard, called Orthanc. At his tower, Saruman is constructing a terrifying army with the intention of waging war on Middle-earth. A butterfly rouses Gandalf and takes a message from him, and a giant eagle comes and saves him.

Strider and the hobbits head for Rivendell, home of the elves. They stop at a hill called Weathertop, where Strider hands the hobbits weapons and suggests they make camp for the night. The hobbits foolishly light a fire at their campsite, and the ringwraiths spot them. The ringwraiths stab Frodo, but Strider fights them off and saves Frodo’s life. Arwen, an elf princess, finds the party and hurries to Rivendell with Frodo, barely evading the wraiths. Frodo is cured and wakes up to discover Gandalf by his side. Bilbo, who has aged significantly, is also at Rivendell, having just completed the book of his adventures, There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale. Elrond, the king of the elves and Arwen’s father, tells Gandalf that the ring cannot stay in Rivendell but must go further. Pessimistic about the future of Middle-earth, Elrond claims that the time of the elves is over, the dwarves are too selfish to help, and men are weak. The ring survives because of Isildur’s weakness. Moreover, the line of human kings is broken, though the heir of Gondor, who has chosen exile, can reunite them.

Shortly after this declaration, we learn that Strider’s true name is Aragorn and that he is the heir of Gondor. We also learn that Aragorn and Arwen are in love and have been for many years. However, this love requires that Arwen sacrifice her immortality, one of the chief attributes of elves.

Elrond convenes a meeting and announces that the races must come together to defeat Mordor. Frodo presents the ring, and Elrond insists that it must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, where it was made. There is some disagreement as to who will undertake this arduous task, and eventually Frodo emerges. Others step forward to accompany Frodo, forming a fellowship of the ring. The fellowship includes the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin; one elf, Legolas; one dwarf, Gimli; one wizard, Gandalf; and two humans, Aragorn and Boromir. Boromir is the son of the steward of Gondor, who has ruled the kingdom in the absence of the rightful king.

The fellowship sets forth from Rivendell. Saruman causes an avalanche of snow to block the group’s attempt to cross the pass of Caradhras, and they decide to enter the realm of the dwarves, the mines of Moria. Inside Moria, the party discovers that all the dwarves have been killed, and soon the fellowship is surrounded by an army of orcs, inhuman creatures that are also brutal, ruthless warriors. The orcs disperse, however, at the approach of a Balrog, a demonic creature from the underworld. The fellowship flees this creature as the mines collapse. Gandalf stays behind to battle the Balrog, which he sends collapsing to the depths of the mines. However, as the Balrog falls, it grabs hold of Gandalf’s legs and drags the wizard down with it. The fellowship emerges from the mines saddened by the loss of Gandalf, but Aragorn insists they have no time to mourn and must press on.

Coming to a forest, the Sylvan elves, led by Galadriel, the Lady of Woods, meet the fellowship. That evening, the Lady and Frodo speak in private. She asks him to look into a mirror, which is a basin of water, and tell her what he sees. He sees visions of the Shire destroyed, of his companions surrounded by orcs, and of the huge, fiery eye of Sauron. The Lady tells him he has seen visions of what will happen if his mission fails. She warns him that the fellowship is breaking and that one by one the ring will destroy them all. Frodo doubts his ability to accomplish his task on his own, but she says that as the ring-bearer, he is already alone. If he does not accomplish the task, no one will. The Lady encourages Frodo and gives him a parting gift, a star of light that will illuminate his path when all other lights go out. The next day, the fellowship departs in boats down the river. Meanwhile, Saruman has dispatched Uruk-hai, unusually large and powerful creatures whose sole mission is to destroy the world of men, after the party, with the instructions to kill everyone but bring the hobbits back alive.

After docking on dry land, Frodo wanders off, and Boromir follows. Frodo is determined to go off alone, but Boromir wants the ring. He is about to attack Frodo for it when Frodo puts on the ring and disappears. This is the longest period of time that Frodo has ever worn the ring, and he has his longest look yet at the fiery eye of Sauron. When Frodo takes the ring off, Aragorn is beside him. Frodo distrusts him, too, but Aragorn passes the test that Boromir failed. He tells Frodo to run off and turns to face the approaching army of Uruk-hai. Boromir also fights valiantly but is badly wounded. The Uruk-hai capture Pippin and Merry. Aragorn wins an epic battle with an Uruk-hai, then rushes to the fallen Boromir, who confesses that he tried to steal the ring from Frodo. Boromir says he has failed the group, but Aragorn tells Boromir he has fought bravely. Boromir swears allegiance to Aragorn, his rightful king, as he dies. Back at the river, Frodo regrets having the ring but remembers Gandalf’s words about his destiny. He departs in a boat, but Sam insists on coming along. Though he can’t swim, Sam jumps in the water, and Frodo is forced to rescue his flailing friend and pull him aboard. Once safe, Sam reminds Frodo that he made a promise never to leave him. On the water’s opposite side, Sam and Frodo climb a mountain and spot Mordor in the distance.

The Two Towers

The movie begins with Gandalf falling into the mine with the Balrog. As he falls, he catches his sword, which is dropping beside him, and stabs the Balrog. Then he lands in a body of water. This vision is just a dream of Frodo’s, however, not reality. Frodo and Sam seem to be going in circles, not making any progress on their way to Mordor. Frodo has a vision of Sauron’s fiery eye—the ring is beginning to take hold of him. Frodo and Sam smell something swampy, then stumble upon Gollum, a pale, hunched creature who used to be a hobbit. Gollum calls the hobbits thieves and accuses them of stealing his ring from him. After a brief fight, the hobbits subdue Gollum and place a leash around his neck. Sam doesn’t trust him, but Frodo pities him. In exchange for Gollum’s leading them to Mordor, they agree to remove the leash from his neck.

Meanwhile, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn pursue the Uruk-hai, which carry Pippin and Merry. In the castle of Rohan, Éowyn and Éomer, the niece and nephew of King Théoden, tell the elderly, incapacitated king that Saruman’s army has severely injured his son the prince; he will soon die. Wormtongue, the king’s evil advisor, has Éomer banished. The Uruk-hai carrying Pippin and Merry are attacked by horsemen of Rohan, led by the banished Éomer, and Pippin and Merry escape in the confusion. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli reach the scene of battle shortly afterward. At first they fear there are no survivors, but then they find footprints leading into the woods, which indicate that the hobbits escaped.

In the forest, they come upon a white wizard, who turns out to be Gandalf. Gandalf says that a new stage of the war of Middle-earth is upon them: war has come to Rohan. He leads the others back to the edge of the forest and whistles for his horse, and then the four set off for Rohan. Asked to disarm before going to see the king, Gandalf holds onto his staff, which he uses to release Théoden from Saruman’s controlling spell. Théoden is transformed from elderly to middle-aged and from weak to strong, and he banishes Wormtongue. Soon villagers arrive at the castle, telling of an oncoming orc and Uruk-hai army. Théoden elects to move Rohan’s entire population to the fort at Helm’s Deep, which is what Wormtongue, who arrives at Saruman's tower, tells Saruman will happen.

Meanwhile, Pippin and Merry have discovered Treebeard, a giant walking tree, or Ent, which has promised to keep them safe. Sam, Frodo, and Gollum, having arrived at the gates of Mordor, are about to enter Sauron’s kingdom when Gollum suggests that they take a back entrance. Frodo defends Gollum to Sam. Frodo feels sympathy for the former ring-bearer, while Sam says that the ring is beginning to take over Frodo.

One night, as Frodo and Sam sleep, Gollum has the first of what will become a series of internal debates. Sméagol, his good side, wants to be obedient to Frodo, who has treated him so nicely. Gollum, his bad side, desperately wants the ring. Sméagol temporarily wins out, and the next day Gollum/Sméagol presents Frodo with a gift, a rabbit he’s hunted, which Sam cooks as a stew. As they eat, they see thousands of troops marching to Mordor, part of the army Sauron is assembling. These arriving soldiers are attacked by a group of humans led by Faramir, Boromir’s younger brother, who come upon Frodo and company and capture them.

In a dream, Arwen encourages Aragorn to stay the course and not falter. Her father wants her to go off with the other elves to eternal life. Aragorn tells her that their love is over and she should go. As his people head to Helm’s Deep, Théoden leads an army to fend off the approaching orcs. Aragorn appears to die as he falls over a cliff in the clutches of a hyenalike creature. However, he actually falls into a body of water, and dreams of Arwen kissing him. Aragorn’s horse resuscitates him and carries him to Helm’s Deep. Arwen’s father, Elrond, tells her that the time has come to leave Middle-earth. She wants to wait for Aragorn, but her father insists that Middle-earth can offer her only death. Even if Aragorn does manage to return, he is mortal and will eventually die. However, the Lady of the Woods tells Elrond that Faramir, who has taken Frodo captive, will seize the ring and then all will be lost. Do we elves leave Middle-earth to its fate? she implores Elrond. Do we abandon the fight and let them stand alone?

Faramir questions Frodo and Sam. He wants to know of his brother’s death. That evening, Faramir captures Gollum, who’s been following the troop. Faramir wants to kill the creature, but Frodo insists on sparing him. Later, Frodo tries to help Gollum escape, but Gollum misunderstands and thinks Frodo is complicit in his capture. He undergoes another round of Sméagol/Gollum debates, and Faramir comes to understand that Frodo has the ring. Sam explains that their task is to destroy the ring in Mordor, but Faramir says the ring will go to Gondor.

An army of 10,000 marches on Rohan, and Helm’s Deep prepares for battle. Aragorn says they must call upon their allies, but Théoden says they have none and that Gondor cannot be counted on. Things do not look good for Rohan, since the fighters are few and of generally low quality, but all try to be hopeful. Then an elf army of bowmen led by the warrior Haldir arrive. Sent by Elrond, they come to honor the ancient alliance between men and elves. The orcs and Uruk-hai arrive at the walls of Helm’s Deep beneath a pouring rain. The two armies face each other, and the combat begins when a single human lets an arrow fly. After that, a ferocious battle rages. The Uruk-hai raise ladders and scale the walls of Helm’s Deep. The elf-human army fights bravely, but the oncoming Uruk-hai are difficult to withstand. They pierce the castle walls and force the defending army deep within the castle. Haldir is killed in battle. Gimli and Aragorn fight bravely on the drawbridge, buying time for the rest of the defending army to regroup.

Meanwhile, the Ents have gathered to debate whether to go to war. They speak incredibly slowly and take a long time to make decisions. Eventually, despite Merry’s entreaties that they participate in the world, the Ents decide against going to war and encourage the two hobbits to return to the Shire. As Treebeard carries the two hobbits to the edge of the forest, however, he comes across a stretch of gutted forest and burnt trees. He blames Saruman for the destruction and decides to rally the other Ents to war.

Women and children flee Helm’s Deep for the safety of the mountains as Aragorn rallies the remaining soldiers to continue to fight. When all hope seems lost, Gandalf appears in the distance along with the riders of Rohan, led by Éomer, who charge the Uruk-hai. The Ents attack Saruman's tower and destroy its defenses. They open a dam and the rushing water floods the entire plain surrounding the tower. The battle of Helm’s Deep is won, but Aragorn and Gandalf see Mordor in the distance, buzzing with activity. The battle for Middle-earth, they know, has just begun.

Meanwhile, back in Gondor, where Faramir has brought his captives, Frodo stands face-to-face with a wraith riding a dragon and is about to hand him the ring when Sam intervenes. Angered, Frodo almost attacks his friend, then apologizes and begins to doubt his own strength. Sam encourages him with a stirring speech about heroism and fighting for good. Moved by Sam’s words, Faramir releases the hobbits.

The Return of the King

In a flashback, we see Sméagol, a hobbit, happily fishing with a friend. The friend falls into the water and reemerges holding a ring. Sméagol wants the ring and strangles his friend to death. After this, Sméagol slowly decays into the dirty, green, raw-fish-eating swamp creature Gollum. He says he forgot what life was like outside his cave. He even forgot his own name. Back in the present, Gollum awakens Frodo and Sam and hurries them along. Sam says he’s begun to ration the little food they have left.

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf come upon Merry and Pippin celebrating on the flooded plain of Saruman's tower, which Treebeard now seems to control. Saruman is still alive, but he is powerless and isolated in his tower. Pippin spots a seeing stone in the water, and Gandalf grabs it and covers it up. At a memorial service and victory celebration at Rohan, Éowyn shares wine with Aragorn, with whom she is falling in love. That evening, Pippin steals the seeing stone from Gandalf and sees the fiery eye of Sauron. The stone nearly kills Pippin, who is revived by Gandalf. In the stone, Pippin saw a vision of Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, destroyed. He also saw Sauron but refused to give the Dark Lord any information about Frodo. Gandalf says this vision proves that Sauron plans to attack Minas Tirith, where he and Pippin head.

About to depart Middle-earth for immortal life, Arwen has a vision of a child that she and Aragorn will have. Quickly, she turns around and returns to Rivendell, where she beseeches her father, who has the gift of foresight, to tell her everything he has seen. She says she knows that death is not the only thing that awaits in her future, but also a child. She says that if she leaves now, she’ll regret it forever. She asks her father to reforge Narsil, the sword with which Isildur cut off Sauron’s finger, thereby releasing the ring.

Meanwhile, Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith, where Lord Denethor, who rules Gondor as steward in the absence of the king, already knows of the death of his son Boromir. Pippin offers his fealty in payment for Boromir’s life, claiming that Boromir saved his own. Gandalf calls upon Denethor to raise an army and call upon his allies. Denethor, however, knows about Aragorn and is afraid of losing power. Gandalf says he cannot resist the return of the king, but Denethor insists that Gondor belongs to him. Disobeying Denethor but following Gandalf’s instructions, Pippin lights the Beacon of Minas Tirith, with which Gondor calls its allies to help. Soon, beacons all across Middle-earth are lit, and Théoden decides that Rohan will answer the call.

Faramir and his men are gathered at Osgiliath, an outer fortress of Gondor, but lose a battle to an approaching orc army. Escaping to Minas Tirith, Faramir tells Gandalf he has seen Sam and Frodo. Denethor, who clearly favors the deceased Boromir over his surviving son Faramir, beseeches Faramir to retake Osgiliath. Faramir agrees, even though it is clearly a suicide mission. He and his men are promptly slaughtered as they ride into battle.

Gollum leads Sam and Frodo to a secret staircase that leads into Mordor. Frodo is pulled toward the front gates, and Sauron’s giant eye burns, sensing the nearness of the ring. Gollum tells Frodo that Sam will turn on him and come after the ring. As the hobbits sleep, Gollum throws away their remaining food after sprinkling crumbs on Sam to make it look like Sam ate the food himself. When they wake up, Sam discovers that the food is gone and accuses Gollum, who points to the crumbs on Sam’s cloak. Sam beats up Gollum and then asks Frodo if he needs help carrying the ring, which triggers Frodo’s doubts about Sam. Frodo decides that Sam, not Gollum, is the problem and decides to continue on with only Gollum.

At camp with the horsemen of Rohan, Aragorn dreams that Arwen has chosen immortality, thereby breaking her promise to him. He is roused by a messenger, who informs him a stranger has come. Aragorn follows the messenger into a tent where Elrond reveals himself and relates very different news about Arwen: she is dying, and her fate is tied to the ring. For Aragorn, saving Middle-earth is now bound up with saving the life of his love. Elrond also tells Aragorn he needs to enlist those who dwell in the mountain to fight against Sauron. These mountain-dwellers are crooks, murderers, and traitors, but they will respond to the king of Gondor. In an act that functions as a kind of coronation, Elrond presents Aragorn with the sword Anduril, which was forged from the shards of Narsil. Éowyn confesses her love to Aragorn, but he tells her he is committed to another. He rides into the mountain with Legolas and Gimli. The men of the mountain swore an oath to a previous king of Gondor but reneged, and Isildur put a curse on them, decreeing that they would never rest until they had fulfilled their obligation. Aragorn and company enter a cave in the mountain and come across a ghost king who says that the dead do not suffer to let the living pass. Suddenly, swarms of ghostly warriors appear. Legolas’s arrows are powerless against them, but Aragorn’s sword can stop their thrusts. He asks them to fight for him and regain their honor, marking the first time that he asserts himself as king of Gondor.

Dragged behind a horse, Faramir’s body arrives at Minas Tirith. The orc army catapults the heads of his dead companions into the city. Denethor bemoans the end of his line, but Pippin insists that Faramir is still alive. The attack on the city begins, but Denethor commands the soldiers to abandon their posts. Seeing that the king is losing his mind, Gandalf takes over command and orders the soldiers to prepare for battle. While the battle rages outside Minas Tirith, Denethor plans to burn Faramir and himself on a pyre. Pippin insists that Faramir is not dead, but Denethor is unconvinced. He lights the pyre, but Gandalf and Pippin rescue Faramir, and Denethor burns alone.

Gollum and Frodo arrive at a cave full of skeletons and giant spider webs. With his plan to steal back the ring falling into place, Gollum seems to disappear, and Frodo is suddenly alone and lost. Meanwhile, Sam, descending the stairs out of the mountain, comes upon the bread that Gollum dropped. He understands Gollum’s deceit and turns around. In the cave, Frodo gets stuck in a web. Using the gift given to him by the Lady of the Woods, he lights the cave and sees Shelob, a giant spider, coming toward him. Frodo cuts his way out of the web and escapes the cave, but Gollum attacks him. They struggle, and Gollum falls over a cliff. The Lady of the Woods reappears to Frodo and encourages him to complete his task. Frodo continues to Mordor on his own. However, Shelob creeps behind him, stings him, and spins a thick web around him. Sam arrives and fights off the creature, but Frodo is wrapped tight in a cocoonlike bundle of webbing, and Sam fears he is dead. Sam abandons the body when a few orcs come down the path. They pick up Frodo’s body and carry it off with them.

Giant elephants, carrying numerous reinforcements from Sauron, arrive on the battlefield of Minas Tirith. Having recently arrived at the battlefield, the riders of Rohan fight bravely, using their speed and agility to confront the elephants. Still, the battle appears to be going in Mordor’s favor. Pippin and Gandalf, within the castle, begin to philosophize about death. On the battlefield, the witch-king is about to kill Théoden, but Éowyn and Merry intervene. Merry distracts the creature, and Éowyn kills it. Théoden dies from his wounds, but he is proud of Éowyn and goes gladly into the afterlife. Meanwhile, a ship carrying Aragorn and his army of ghost men arrives, and the group overwhelms the orc army. The field is calm, and the battle seems won. Aragorn releases the men of the mountain, and they disappear. Pippin and Merry reunite on the battlefield.

Frodo awakes in Mordor. He is chained and half naked. His things have been taken from him, including the ring. Sam enters the orc stronghold where Frodo is held captive and rescues Frodo. When they are free, Sam tells Frodo that he, not the orcs, has the ring. He took it when he thought Frodo was dead. Though a little reluctant to return it to Frodo, he agrees to. The two friends dress in orc armor and go onto the plains of Mordor. They spot Mount Doom in the distance, Sauron’s fiery eye raging at its peak.

Back at Minas Tirith, Gandalf despairs about Frodo’s ability to complete the mission, but Aragorn says they must not give up hope. He suggests they march upon Mordor to distract Sauron. As Aragorn’s army approaches the gates of Mordor, Sauron’s orcs are drawn from the plains of Mordor to its front gate, and Sam and Frodo cross the plain unhindered. Nevertheless, the passage is far from easy. They have little water left. They drink the last drops and accept that there will be no return journey. As they struggle up Mount Doom, Sam encourages his friend with talk of the Shire and has to carry the weakened Frodo a good distance on his back. Gollum reappears, and Sam fights him as Frodo runs to the top of Mount Doom on his own. Standing above the fiery inferno of Mount Doom just as Isildur did years earlier, Frodo holds the ring above the volcano, but, like the former king, he cannot let it go. Instead, he declares the ring his and puts it on. Gollum has also managed to get to the top of the mountain and attacks Frodo. In the ensuing struggle, Gollum bites off the finger on which Frodo is wearing the ring and falls, clutching the ring, over a cliff and into the lava below, while Frodo survives by holding onto the cliff. Sam pulls him up as the ring disappears into the sea of fire. With the ring destroyed, Sauron’s eye burns out. The tower of Mordor begins to collapse and then explodes. Mount Doom erupts, flooding the plain with lava. Sam and Frodo are stuck on top of a giant boulder, with lava flowing all around. They prepare for their deaths, but Gandalf swoops by on a giant eagle and picks them up.

Frodo awakens in a luxurious bed with Gandalf by his side. The remaining fellowship is there, too. Aragorn is crowned king at a ceremony in Gondor. Placing the crown on his head, Gandalf announces the return of the king. Legolas and the elves arrive, along with Arwen. She and Aragorn kiss. Then the whole crowd bows before the four hobbits. The fellowship is declared over, and the fourth age of Middle-earth begins. The hobbits return to the Shire, and the four friends drink at a pub. Sam sees the girl he used to have a crush on and talks to her. Shortly thereafter, they are married. Frodo writes his adventures in the same manuscript in which Bilbo wrote his. It is called The Lord of the Rings. He finishes four years to the day after receiving his wound from the ringwraith, but he still hasn’t healed from the experience, and he, along with Bilbo and Gandalf, head off with the elves to eternal life. As he boards the ship that will carry them off, Frodo hands Sam his book. “The last pages are for you, Sam,” he says. Then the boat sails off. Returning to the Shire, Sam joins his wife and two children.


Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was born in New Zealand in 1961, on Halloween. When Jackson was eight years old, his parents bought an8mm camera, and in just a few years he was making short movies with his friends. He often used innovative special effects techniques for his very low-budget films, paving the way for his work with special effects later on in his filmmaking career. He began making his first feature film, the low-budget Bad Taste (1987), when he was twenty-two, and it became a cult classic. Eventually, he made a name for himself as a director of gory horror movies, including Meet the Feebles (1989) and Dead Alive(1992), then branched out a bit with Heavenly Creatures (1994), a film based on a real-life murder perpetrated by two young girls in New Zealand.

Jackson had been a longtime fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and he first approached Miramax with the idea of making two films based on the novels. Despite the studio’s initial support of the project, the budget proved too daunting for them, and Jackson brought his idea to New Line Cinema in 1998. Jackson’s plan to film the movies in New Zealand and employ his own special effects studios pleased New Line, and they increased the project to three films. In an unprecedented move, they agreed to let Jackson direct all three films at one time. His budget was $270 million, and filming took nearly fourteen months.

In 2004, The Return of the King (2003), the third film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, won the Oscar for Best Picture. The award was hardly a surprise. The first two films in the series, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, had both been nominated but lost, and the trilogy seemed to be due an award. Few critics, however, considered the third film better than the first two, and, like its predecessors, the film was praised but not celebrated. However, the fact that The Return of the King concluded the trilogy seemed to make it more worthy of an Oscar than the previous two installments had been. Unlike the films that make up other famous trilogies, such as The Godfather, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, the films inThe Lord of the Rings are not complete in and of themselves. The Fellowship of the Ring might as well have a To Be Continued . . . sign before the credits, and The Two Towers actually has neither a real beginning nor a real end. Even The Return of the King, though it indeed has an ending, starts in media res, and anyone who has not seen the first two films will be a bit lost. The Best Picture award is, in effect, a single award for the entire trilogy, which itself might be more accurately described as one very long movie than as three separate films.

The trilogy’s unity is perhaps its most distinguishing characteristic. Its consistency is largely due to the circumstances of its production. For two years, from 1999 to2001, Jackson filmed in New Zealand, creating the footage used in all three films. Though the movies were edited and released separately, the fact that the entire trilogy’s footage was filmed at one time and in one place goes a long way toward explaining the unity of the entire trilogy. The congruity of the trilogy can also be ascribed to the fact that the films closely follow Tolkien’s novels. Movies, which are collaborative, tend to be influenced by many different people—writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, and actors—while books tend to represent the vision of one writer. Because the films stay close to the novels, they benefit from the consistency of Tolkien’s vision.

While critics generally praised the films, few considered them to be anything more than very well-done big-budget extravaganzas, but the films’ popularity has made them very influential in the filmmaking world. For example, The Lord of the Ringstrilogy has influenced the length of motion pictures. Each of the three films is approximately three hours long, and the entire trilogy lasts well over nine hours. For many years the standard Hollywood film length was an hour and a half. The average feature film had already begun to grow before the release of The Lord of the Rings, but the trilogy’s success partly explains the increasing number of two-and-a-half to three-hour movies, as well as multifilm epics, such as Quentin Tarantino’s two-partKill Bill.

The trilogy also helped to reintroduce a forgotten genre: the war epic. For many years, most war films concerned the Vietnam War, and these films invariably approached the war with cynicism and aimed to present a balanced picture that documented the human suffering on both sides. Even war films, such as Glory andSaving Private Ryan, which seem to celebrate the heroism and sacrifice of common soldiers fighting just wars, never hide the fact that war is hell. Even if a war is just, these films suggest, it is still pure hell for the soldiers fighting it. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, however, seems to have helped reintroduce the notion of war as an aspect of coming of age, one way that a man can mature and make his name.

Neither Tolkien nor Jackson intended their work to be classified as “fantasy,” and instead viewed their work as a form of history-making. Many aspects of Jackson’s films, however, are indeed fantastical and follow a line of other films that portray worlds far different from the one we know. Movies have always taken place in both recognizable and alternative worlds, and for many years, the dominant genre in this alternate tradition was science fiction. Films like The Terminator portray futures in which cyborgs walk the earth and space travel is common. Science fiction eventually produced cyberpunk, a subgenre that includes such films as The Matrix,in which the virtual world of the computer becomes the new frontier. Fantasy, like science fiction and cyberpunk, portrays worlds that differ radically from both the present and the past, but the alternate world in works of fantasy is not defined by technology. Science fiction and cyberpunk most often concern an imagined future, while fantasy generally concerns an alternative past. Middle-earth, the setting ofThe Lord of the Rings, resembles a legendary, rather than historical, conception of the Middle Ages, where warriors wear shining armor and ride off to battle on horseback. Moreover, Middle-earth is a world of mystery, populated by elves, dwarves, magicians, and evil spirits, a fantastic land in keeping with the religiosity of the Middle Ages. Science fiction and cyberpunk are rooted in both the modern and the futuristic worlds, and to some extent, The Lord of the Rings signals a return to more conservative Hollywood films, a step back from the technology-centric, socially critical movies that have been the norm for the better part of the past thirty years.

The Lord of the Rings: From Novels to Films

One of the most remarkable aspects of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is its faithfulness in spirit and detail to the J. R. R. Tolkien novels on which the films are based. Books and movies tell stories in vastly different ways, and one of their primary differences is length. Novels often tend to contain more information than a two- or three-hour movie can possibly cover, and short stories are frequently used as the basis for film adaptations instead. When a director chooses to turn a novel into a movie, he or she must often eliminate or de-emphasize important subplots. Clocking in at over nine hours, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is much longer than the usual feature film, but Tolkien’s trilogy, plus the related novels The Hobbit and The Silmarillion,is itself long, spanning thousands of pages. Jackson’s ability to capture the diversity and richness of Middle-earth’s lands and peoples is therefore a substantial achievement. Jackson is evidently a reverential reader of the original books and did not want to deviate too much from Tolkien’s vision. In a sense, Jackson’s faithfulness to the books was necessary for the trilogy’s success. Dedicated readers of The Lord of the Rings are the book world’s equivalent of Trekkies: they are archivists of obscure, trivial details, even protective of these details. If Jackson had disappointed them, he would have lost a crucial audience and perhaps even caused a public relations mess. Tolkien fans, however, generally love the films.

Despite Jackson’s careful dedication to the novels, some differences do exist between the books and the films. In order to turn thousands of pages into roughly nine hours of film, Jackson had to simplify the original story by eliminating or changing certain characters. For example, Tom Bombadil, a significant character in the novel version of The Fellowship of the Ring, is absent from the movies. As a hard-to-classify godlike creature, he may have required more explanation than a fast-paced film could make time for. Crucial scenes involving Bombadil are therefore missing, including one in which the four hobbits come across a cache of elf weapons, weapons that prove important when Merry uses an elf sword to slay the witch-king, which cannot be killed by a human, in The Return of the King. Jackson works around Bombadil, however, to get the same information across. He gives the hobbits their weapons more directly: Aragorn gives the hobbits a sack of weapons on the hill called Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The book-to-movie adaptation also affects the elf princess Arwen, but instead of dropping out of the film altogether, she actually takes on the characteristics of two characters from the novel. Arwen appears in the novels but plays a less significant role than she does in the films. The movie Arwen is a combination of the novel Arwen and an elf warrior named Glorfindel. In the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, Arwen rescues Frodo after he’s been stabbed by a wraith and whisks him safely on horseback to Rivendell, with the wraiths in close pursuit. By giving Arwen this role, which Glorfindel carries out in the novel, Jackson does much more than simplify his story: he portrays Arwen as a heroine. This rescue is our first impression of her, and her bravery and strength in this scene balance out the more subdued role of delicate princess that she plays later, as she idles in Rivendell wondering whether to choose a mortal or immortal life. Her courage in saving Frodo puts her in the same league as the warrior-princess Éowyn.

Despite these changes, the essence of Tolkien’s novels remains intact. Jackson’s decision to forgo the obscure, extra details that round out the author’s trilogy didn’t lessen the thematic and narrative meat of Tolkien’s work, and the conflation or elimination of characters from the novels ultimately does not change the story very much. The films and the novels are not interchangeable, but the films prove as faithful as they can be to the novels without testing the limits of viewers’ patience and attention.

The Ending of The Lord of the Rings

Though Peter Jackson had to change certain aspects of certain characters to smoothly create films from Tolkien’s novels, no change he made to a character affects the general spirit of Tolkien’s work. However, Jackson did make one major change to his trilogy that differs vastly from Tolkien’s novels. This change concerns what happens at the end of The Return of the King, when the hobbits return to the Shire. In the films, Frodo and Sam return to find the same green, peaceful countryside they left, exactly how they’d imagined it throughout their journey. In the novels, however, they return to a land ruled and terrorized by the evil wizard Saruman. In the films, Frodo looks into Galadriel’s mirror and sees visions of a burning Shire and hobbits marching in chain gangs. Galadriel says that this is what awaits the Shire in the future, if Frodo fails in his mission. In the novels, these visions are of the actual future, even though Frodo succeeds.

Throughout the trilogy, the Shire is a peaceful idyll far from the horrible wars of Middle-earth. While the trilogy’s human heroes, such as Aragorn, thrive in the wars and political intrigue of Middle-earth, hobbits seem to prefer to be far from the center of action. This separation engenders in hobbits a kind of innocence, and Frodo’s pure spirit enables him to be a successful ring-bearer. When the four hobbits first depart from the Shire, they leave a small world of innocence for a larger world of unknown mystery, where both adventure and terror await them. This journey from peaceful home to mysterious larger world suggests the journey from childhood to maturity, with the hobbits cast as young adolescents venturing into the adult world. However, except for those hobbits, such as Bilbo, who have ventured beyond its boundaries, the Shire is populated by adults who seem as innocent as children. The Shire, therefore, suggests a kind of Eden, where a hobbit can live an entire lifetime far from cruelty, greed, and war.

In Jackson’s films, the hobbits return to the Shire after the great battle of Middle-earth has been fought, the evil forces of Sauron have been defeated, the ring has been destroyed, and the various human kingdoms have been united under Aragorn’s rule. In other words, all of Middle-earth has become much like the Shire, a place free from strife. In the novels, however, precisely the opposite has happened: the struggles of Middle-earth have come to the Shire. Even though Frodo has destroyed the ring of power, war and hardship have not ceased to exist. In the novels, the destruction of the ring marks an important victory against evil, but the world has somehow changed irreversibly nonetheless, signaling an end of innocence.

Tolkien’s version of the return to the Shire allows for further exploration of the differences between Sam and Frodo. In the novels, Frodo, exhausted by his journey to Mordor, barely participates in the ensuing rebellion against Saruman. Sam, meanwhile, leads the rebellion and eventually becomes mayor of the Shire. This final confrontation sheds new light on what Frodo says as he departs Middle-earth with the elves. Handing the memoir of his adventures to Sam, he says, “The last pages are for you, Sam.” In the film, this line suggests that Sam will go on to live happily ever after in the Shire. In the novel, Sam will be forced to display courage and heroism in the rebellion in the Shire as Frodo did on the journey to Mordor.

Jackson’s rosier conclusion simplifies the story, certainly, since a Shire-based battle would probably have added another thirty minutes to the film, but it serves another purpose as well. By allowing the hobbits to return to an idyllic Shire, Jackson has lightened Tolkien’s much darker vision and opted to conclude the trilogy with a classic Hollywood ending. In a way, however, by presenting such a simple version of good and evil, a version in which the worst evil is vanquished and no new evil rises to take its place, Jackson renders his films even more fantastical than Tolkien’s original novels. In a world as tumultuous as Middle-earth, evil is sure to one day return.

Narrative Structure

The Lord of the Rings films progress chronologically, following Frodo and the other members of the fellowship on their journey. A narrator relates the history of the ring at the very beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the only background information we need to understand the urgency of the upcoming journey. From there, events happen in order, from Gandalf’s arrival in the Shire at the beginning of the first film to Sam and Frodo’s return at the end of the last. While Tolkien’s trilogy relies on appendices and companion books to augment the story with historical minutiae and tangents, Jackson elects to stay close to the central narrative—incorporating such obscure details into the films would have been all but impossible. After the fellowship breaks up at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring,individual characters and smaller groups pursue their own journeys, and the scenes move back and forth between them. However, their stories take place more or less simultaneously and are related in the order in which they occur. Dreams, visions, and psychic messages occasionally appear and reveal images of past or future events, but since these occur within specific characters’ minds, they still follow the chronology of the action taking place.

Only one scene in the trilogy appears out of chronological order: the opening scene of The Return of the King. In this scene, the hobbit Sméagol kills his friend to acquire the ring of power and eventually becomes the withered creature Gollum, whose singular obsession is the ring. As a freestanding scene, this episode is unique in the trilogy. In a way, the scene reveals nothing new, since Gollum’s internal debates in The Two Towers reveal enough information for us to speculate about his history. Other background information may have been equally or more useful, such as the history of Saruman and Gandalf’s relationship or the story of Aragorn’s being raised by elves.

The Sméagol scene, however, has two important effects on The Return of the Kingand on the trilogy itself. Though the power of the ring has been evident from the very beginning, Sméagol’s transformation shows exactly how dangerous that power is. In a way, the story of Sméagol serves as a cautionary tale or a dire prediction of what could happen to Frodo if he gives in to the power of the ring. The scene also gives new edges and layers to the character of Gollum. Gollum is a complex combination of good and evil, and this ambiguity sets him apart from other characters in the trilogy, who are usually completely good or wholly evil. Gollum’s history provides a window into his psyche, and, with him more than with any other character, we can see what motivates both his actions and his anxiety. Gollum’s utter helplessness in the presence of the ring renders him, to some extent, an object of sympathy.

Important Quotations Explained

GALADRIEL:   “You are a ring-bearer, Frodo. To bear a ring of power is to be alone. This task was appointed to you. And if you do not find a way, no one will.”
The Fellowship of the Ring 

Galadriel, the Lady of the Woods, says these words to Frodo near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. The fellowship has just barely escaped from the mines of Moria, where they believe Gandalf has been killed. The experience has made them all uneasy. As the others sleep, Galadriel makes Frodo look into a mirror, in which he sees visions of what will happen if his mission fails: among other tragedies, the Shire will be overrun by orcs and his friends will be imprisoned. She tells Frodo that the fellowship has broken and that one by one the others will come after the ring, a statement that anticipates Boromir’s attempt to steal the ring at the end of the film. Frightened by the awesome responsibility before him, Frodo offers Galadriel the ring, which she refuses.

When Frodo says he cannot accomplish his task on his own, Galadriel responds with the quotation above. She means to encourage him but also to let him know that his journey has just begun. The fellowship has given him a start, but the task ahead is his and his alone. He no longer needs the others, and, indeed, he separates from them at the end of the film. These words also serve as a warning for Frodo, alerting him to the solitude he’ll struggle with as long as he has the ring. Frodo will wrestle with solitude even after he’s destroyed the ring and returned to the Shire. When Galadriel tells Frodo, “To bear a ring of power is to be alone,” she demonstrates her understanding of exactly how enormous Frodo’s task is, and how separate he is from the rest of the fellowship. His task is completely solitary, and it will consume his life.

SAM:   “I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise. Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee. And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
The Fellowship of the Ring 

When Frodo breaks off from his companions at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, all except Sam willingly let him go, understanding his decision to travel alone. As Frodo rows away from shore, Sam, who cannot swim, runs into the water after him. Sam quickly starts drowning, and Frodo reaches into the water to save him. Once aboard the boat, Sam uses these words to explain his refusal to let Frodo go on alone. The promise he refers to is the promise he made to Gandalf when Gandalf recruited him to be Frodo’s traveling partner. Sam may seem like just a bumbling hobbit, but his steadfastness, even in the face of Frodo’s willful determination, shows him to have a tough inner core that will prove invaluable to Frodo as the journey continues.

Sam’s affirmation of his promise to stay with Frodo suggests how fully interdependent the two friends are. From this point on, Sam will be Frodo’s protector, but here, Frodo protects Sam’s life. As harsh and solitary as Frodo’s task is, Sam is always right beside him, providing as much support as possible. As pure a heart as Frodo must have to bear the ring and destroy it in Mount Doom, Sam must have a similarly pure heart to support his friend so completely and never desire the ring for himself. With his actions and these words, Sam shows that his relationship with Frodo is different from everyone else’s, and he contradicts Galadriel’s message about the breakup of the fellowship of the ring. The fellowship, Sam’s actions and words suggest, has merely been reconstituted from a group of nine to a group of two. With these words, Sam shows that he, like Frodo, understands the nature of his mission.

GOLLUM/SMÉAGOL:   “We needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses, wicked, tricksy, false. No, not master . . . Master’s my friend. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you. Not listening. I’m not listening. You’re a liar. And a thief. Murderer. Go away. . . . I hate you. . . . Leave now and never come back.”
The Two Towers 

Though this passage appears to be a dialogue, it is actually a monologue, and it exemplifies the internal debate that consumes Gollum. In The Two Towers, Gollum has agreed to lead Sam and Frodo to Mordor. This particular internal argument occurs one night as Sam and Frodo sleep, but it is not the only passage of its kind, and we might assume that this is only part of an ongoing debate in Gollum’s mind. Whenever Gollum has a quiet moment, this debate overtakes him. The conflict is between his good and bad intentions, and these intentions manifest themselves in his double identity, Gollum/Sméagol. Sometimes the doting, kind Sméagol seems to genuinely like Frodo, who has shown him pity and kindness, and to want to help him. Gollum, however, seems to be merely biding his time with the hobbits, waiting for the perfect moment to steal the ring of power, by force if necessary.

This particular debate between Gollum and Sméagol bodes both good and ill for Frodo and his mission. It shows clearly the anguish the ring causes its bearer, and Gollum’s pathetic existence is a constant reminder of what may be in store for Frodo. However, this debate also shows clearly how different Frodo and Gollum are. As Gollum understands it, his choice is between the ring, which he calls his “precious,” and Frodo, his “master.” In other words, he must choose between two things of value, both of which are worth more than he himself is. Whatever he chooses, Gollum will remain inferior and subservient, and he hints at the reason for his low opinion of himself in the penultimate line, in which Gollum accuses Sméagol of being “a liar. And a thief. Murderer.” We don’t understand until The Return of the King that Sméagol killed his friend to get the ring. Because of the guilt Gollum continues to feel about this act, he’ll never be free from his need for the ring. Frodo, on the other hand, who has acquired the ring in a much more innocent way, might not have to undergo a similar struggle. Frodo has never been reliant on or covetous of the ring, and, if he completes his mission successfully, he never will be. For Gollum, it’s too late.

SAM:   “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. . . . Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. . . . There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
The Two Towers 

Sam makes this speech to Frodo at the end of The Two Towers, when the hobbits have reached a low point. They’d been close to the gates of Mordor when Faramir captured them and took them and the ring to Gondor. Just before Sam makes this speech, a weakened, hypnotized Frodo nearly hands the ring to a wraith. Success in the mission seems unlikely. However, as Sam gives this inspiring oration, we see images of Rohan’s victory over the forces of Saruman and the Ents wreaking havoc on his tower, good signs that suggest Sam and Frodo’s fortune is about to turn. Indeed, Faramir is so moved by Sam’s words that he sets the hobbits free, rather than hold them and the ring in Gondor.

Sam’s words inspire those who listen, and they also reveal Sam’s growing wisdom. Frodo is not the only one undergoing a difficult journey—Sam is as well. He no longer speaks as a fresh-faced youth but with the wisdom of age and experience. He refers back to childhood stories, another component of the innocence of the Shire, now a thing of the past for Sam and Frodo. Here, Sam finds a way of looking back without regret, and in the Shire’s innocence he finds the inspiration he and Frodo need to push forward. The Shire is never far from Sam’s mind, and he draws his strength from his memories of it. Frodo, on the other hand, will never be able to go back to the Shire. The answer Sam claims to have found will never come to Frodo. This passage does, however, anticipate the fact that Frodo will turn his adventures into a story. When his journey is over, composing this story will be as close as he comes to finding the peace of mind that Sam does.

ELROND:   “As Sauron’s power grows, her strength wanes. Arwen’s life is now tied to the fate of the ring. . . . The man who can wield the power of this sword can summon to him an army more deadly than any that walks this earth. Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.” 
The Return of the King 

Elrond delivers this message to Aragorn in The Return of the King, as the fellowship travels with the riders of Rohan to Minas Tirith to defend Gondor against the forces of Sauron. One evening, Aragorn dreams that Arwen chooses immortal life and cannot marry him, and he wakes up to find Elrond, king of the elves and Arwen’s father, waiting for him. Elrond tells Aragorn that, contrary to Aragorn’s dream, Arwen has chosen mortal life, and her survival now depends on the defeat of Sauron’s army. Aragorn has been motivated all along to protect Middle-earth and restore balance and peace to all its realms, but Elrond’s news of Arwen gives Aragorn another reason to fight. Arwen has risked her life for the chance of being with him, and Elrond is entrusting Aragorn with the task of protecting her. Elrond gives Aragorn a sword, a sign that he now commits himself fully to supporting the human cause.

The sword Elrond gives Aragorn is Anduril, which was forged from the shards of the sword Narsil. Isildur used a shard of Narsil to fight Sauron and cut the ring from Sauron’s finger, and legend claimed that the sword would not be reforged until the ring was found and Sauron returned. By giving Aragorn this gift, Elrond anoints him as Isildur’s heir, finally ready to take over Isildur’s role as king of Gondor. This moment marks the final step in Aragorn’s embracing his status as king, and he uses his status to recruit the men of the mountain to join his army. Elrond says that Anduril can gather an army as great as any “that walks this earth.” In other words, at this moment, the forces of good finally have a weapon as powerful as Sauron’s ring, and final battle can begin. With the support of Elrond firmly behind him, Aragorn has no choice but to accept his destiny as king of Gondor and set out to save both Middle-earth and his love.

Key Facts

 The Lord of the Rings
 · The Fellowship of the Ring
 · The Two Towers
 · The Return of the King

LEADING ACTORS · Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood

SUPPORTING ACTORS/ACTRESSES · Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, John Noble, Paul Norell, Miranda Otto, Craig Parker, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis, Harry Sinclair, Liv Tyler, Karl Urban, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham

TYPE OF WORK · Feature film

GENRE · Epic fantasy

LANGUAGE · English

TIME AND PLACE PRODUCED · New Zealand, 1999–2001


 ·  The Fellowship of the Ring (2002)
 · Winner, Best Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie)
 · Winner, Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook,
 · Richard Taylor)
 · and Mark Stetson
 · Winner, Best Makeup (Peter Owen, Richard Taylor)
 · Winner, Best Original Score (Howard Shore)
 ·  The Two Towers (2003)
 · Winner, Best Sound Editing (Ethan Van der Ryn, Michael Hopkins)
 · Winner, Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook,
 · Alex Funke)
 ·  The Return of the King (2004)
 · Winner, Best Picture
 · Winner, Best Director (Peter Jackson)
 · Winner, Best Adapted Screenplay (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter
 · Jackson)
 · Winner, Best Art Direction (Grant Major)
 · Winner, Best Set Decoration (Dan Hennah, Alan Lee)
 · Winner, Best Costume Design (Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor)
 · Winner, Best Film Editing (Jamie Selkirk)
 · Winner, Best Original Score (Howard Shore)
 · Winner, Best Original Song (Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox)
 · Winner, Best Makeup (Richard Taylor, Peter King)
 · Winner, Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael
 · Hedges, Hammond Peek)
 · Winner, Best Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook,
 · Alex Funke)


 ·  The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
 ·  The Two Towers (2002)
 ·  The Return of the King (2003)

PRODUCERS · Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh

SETTING (TIME) · The third age of Middle-earth

SETTING (PLACE) · Middle-earth

PROTAGONIST · Frodo Baggins

MAJOR CONFLICT · The major conflict is the battle for Middle-earth between its diverse inhabitants, including humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and wizards, and the dark forces of Sauron.

RISING ACTION · The war for Middle-earth is largely fought on traditional battlefields between two opposing armies, but the real battle is fought within the hearts of its inhabitants. Symbolizing this internal struggle is Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring of power, which can be accomplished only if he is able to withstand the great temptation the ring represents.

CLIMAX · The climax of the film occurs at Mount Doom, as Frodo debates whether to let the ring fall into the fires that created it, thereby destroying it, or to keep the ring for himself.

FALLING ACTION · The falling action is long and drawn out and includes Sam and Frodo’s rescue from the lava-drenched plains of Mordor, Frodo’s convalescence, the coronation of Aragorn, the hobbits’ return to the Shire, and the departure of Frodo, Bilbo, and Gandalf with the elves.

THEMES · The king vs. the steward; the limits of fellowship; the Shire as a fantasy of home

MOTIFS · Mordor; the temptation of the ring; journeys

SYMBOLS · Water; the ring; Mount Doom


 · Bilbo’s restlessness and his reluctance to give up the ring foreshadow the awesome challenge the ring will pose for Frodo.
 · Frodo’s vision in Galadriel’s mirror and Pippin’s vision in the seeing stone predict the fate of Middle-earth should the fellowship fail in its mission.
 · Isildur’s failure to drop the ring into Mount Doom anticipates Frodo’s own reluctance.
 · Boromir’s attempt to snatch the ring from Frodo anticipates Gollum’s repeated attempts to steal the ring, as well as those of Boromir’s brother, Faramir.
 · When Frodo jumps into the water to rescue Sam at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, the action anticipates the flashback at the beginning of The Return of the King, which shows Sméagol’s friend’s dive for the ring of power.