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Written for the LOTR Community Nonfiction challenge for 2011. For Shelley and ChickLovesLOTR for their birthdays, and for Tiggersk8.
Pick a Hero
One of the most compelling aspects of The Lord of the Rings is that it is not a tale with but one or two major heroes and their sidekicks; nay, within Middle Earth everyone has it in him or her to become a great hero or a terrible villain. As has been pointed out in trying to decide which to define as the major characters in the movies, The Lord of the Rings is instead an ensemble piece in which even the most insignificant of characters is vastly important. It seems obvious that Frodo and Aragorn are the two main characters—but isn’t Gandalf as important as they? And you can’t consider Sam a less important character than Frodo, for the two become a unit that must labor together to see the main goal of the story met; and Sam wouldn’t have been there if not for the mechanizations of Merry and Pippin; and you cannot ignore the importance of Legolas and Gimli to the quest of the Three Hunters; or ignore Boromir, his brother, or his father, each of whom has his own part to play or all will fall to nothing…. And so it goes.
Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast are all of the order of Wizards or Istari, who we learn elsewhere were originally Maiar, servant angels sent to the Mortal Lands in the guise of mortal Men, intended to guide and inspire the people of Middle Earth in their ongoing battles against the forces of evil as personified at the time by Sauron, who also originated as one of the Maiar. The three Wizards join with the greatest remaining Elven lords and ladies to form the White Council, in which these who are deemed to be the Wise meet to debate just how to best counter the evil they face within the world. Saruman the White, accepted as the leader of the Istari, is also granted the post as head of the White Council, but not without misgivings on the part of Galadriel, the Lady of the Golden Wood. As so often happens, he who is given the greatest responsibility and honor has the furthest to fall should he betray his trust; so it happens with Saruman. Apparently seduced by Sauron via the medium of the palantir of Orthanc, Saruman descends into villainhood, turning the Vale of Isengard into a slave’s copy of Mordor, with hidden forges and machines and dungeons where an army of mannish orcs is being bred, armed, and trained to subdue Rohan in preparation for even greater treacheries as yet not named aloud.
Saruman has left behind his position as the White, now seeing White as but a canvas to be painted upon, Light to be broken into a spectrum by means of a prism, a cloth waiting to be given definition by being dyed. And with his seat as Chief of the Wise now vacant, it is the returned Gandalf, who has proved himself by taking on still another fallen brother in his battle with the Balrog, who is elevated as the White in his place. So, one once thought a hero is now choosing to supplant the chief villain, and the manipulative, goading Gandalf of The Hobbit is fulfilled and revealed as Saruman as he ought to have been.
Meanwhile Radagast fulfills his duties, but appears to have lost sight of his mandate to oppose Sauron in his dedication to the wild lands and creatures of Middle Earth; Gandalf is allowed to return home with full honor while Saruman’s shade is blown apart upon the winds of the world as had happened also with Sauron; and Radagast lingers on within Middle Earth, perhaps only now coming into his own as he most likely helps the lands and creatures heal from Sauron’s long tortuous reign. His heroic status might not be certain, but he does prove himself to be no villain, at least, and he remains a sympathetic character.
In Rohan we meet a number of heroes in the Viking-like Rohirrim—Háma the Doorward, who defies Gríma Wormtongue to leave Gandalf’s staff in the Wizard’s hands and who is cut down before the gates of Helm’s Deep; Théoden King in both the battle of Helm’s Deep and the charge against the Enemy’s folk on the fields of the Pelennor; brash young Éomer as he defies the King’s orders to intercept Saruman’s orcs on the eaves of Fangorn Forest and finds himself King amidst the chaos and grief of the battle before the gates of Minas Tirith; and his even brasher and yet lovely sister Éowyn who, denied the love she thought she sought, refuses to be left behind and so in disguise sneaks herself and Merry to the Battle of the Pelennor where the two of them manage to destroy the Witch-king of Angmar between them and so rid the world of a great evil.
Then there is the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, known also as Iarwain Ben-adar, with his beloved Goldberry Riverdaughter, dwelling in the dwindling wild of the Old Forest; and old Treebeard and his Ents and huorns who guard the integrity of Fangorn Forest on the southern borders of the Misty Mountains.
And there are the Elves who even now fight the battle of the Long Defeat, as they know it. If the long war against Sauron is indeed won, still they will lose their place in Middle Earth, yet they fight on determinedly nonetheless. Elrond has the Ring within his house and the Ringbearer unconscious under his hands, yet he withstands the lure of the Ring, Frodo awakens to find It on a silver chain about his neck rather than still inside his pocket, and in the Council of Elrond Its status is made clear to all that participants might make informed choices as to what needs doing next, whether to offer themselves as companions to the Ringbearer or to return home with warning to prepare for the mother of all battles soon to turn up on their own doorsteps. Galadriel is offered the Ring by Frodo and turns it down, accepting that by doing so she will at least remain herself even if she must then leave Middle Earth and return to Aman at the last. Thranduil and his realm must prepare for the coming battle, knowing well that either this will be the end of all things or it will serve to restore the Great Greenwood one last time ere the Elves of Middle Earth must fade. Not to mention the quiet heroism of Arwen, crafting the standard that she prepares for her beloved in secret and sending it by the hand of his doomed kinsman Halbarad. Arwen personifies those who send their beloved lovers, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers out to fight, not knowing which they will embrace once more and which they will mourn forever after.
The Dwarves also face their final battle against Sauron proudly, knowing one of their own is a member of the Fellowship and that this time they will fight side-by-side with both the Men of Dale and the Elves of Mirkwood—perhaps the one factor that this time helps guarantee the final victory over Sauron, that this time all are fighting, perhaps separately, but still together in the long run. Each race has its representation in the Fellowship of the Ring; and the most peace-loving of them all, the Hobbits of the Shire, this time lead the final assault on Mordor, one that is by-and-large won by perseverance and endurance rather than through strategies or warcraft.
So, this is one epic that draws us into it by providing at least one hero, great or small, with whom each reader can identify, whether Aragorn wielding Andúril, Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Frodo collapsing on the slopes of Oródruin, Sam patiently replanting the Shire with a grain of soil from Galadriel’s garden to the roots of each tree, Éowyn and Merry standing against the Lord of the Nazgûl, Denethor searching the Anor stone for warning of the Enemy’s plans against Gondor, one of those who fought in the Battle of Bywater and who carried their bows to the doorstep of Bag End in the wake of the Travellers, or some unnamed member of the Grey Company soothing his horse and his own soul before following his beloved Lord Kinsman through the Paths of the Dead to the tryst at the Stone of Erech. And I think that for all of us, the common one we love as well as our first hero is Faramir son of Denethor and brother to Boromir, with his quiet assurance to Sam and Frodo that he would not use a lie to entrap even one of Sauron’s own creatures.
We watch each one in this story making his or her choice to either do the best possible against Sauron, or to seek his own glory at the possible expense of his soul, and we find our heart stirred by all of the forms of heroism possible. And, with those gathered on the Field of Cormallen, we find ourselves praising each and all with great praise. A laita te!
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