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The Lord of the Rings | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf tells Frodo in Moria, "There is more about you than meets the eye," what double meaning is implied?

Gandalf often notes that hobbits are tougher than other, more powerful people would expect. After all, they are small, and have simple tastes, and don't know much about the greater world outside the Shire. So he is drawing upon this idea in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 6) as he comments on Frodo's amazing escape from a deadly blow. However, Gandalf knows Bilbo had the mithril mail shirt, and he likely guessed Bilbo gave it to Frodo. Gandalf doesn't miss much. Therefore, Gandalf may be referring to the fact that Frodo is wearing this mail shirt secretly. In both ways, Frodo is tougher than he appears (than "meets the eye").

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Galadriel test each member of the Company, how do they react to this test, and what can be inferred from their reactions?

When the Company first meets with Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 7), she maintains eye contact with each member for a time, and later, they each report "that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear that lay ahead, and something that he greatly desired." Sam feels his choice is between going on and going home to a "bit of garden" of his own. His reaction is the most apparent because he blushes. He is the only one who shares his choice. The others seem to have a similarly uncomfortable experience, but do not want to share what tempting thing they were offered. Readers can infer that they all made the choice between going into danger and something pleasant and comfortable. Boromir reacts angrily to Galadriel's testing, saying suspiciously, "I do not feel too sure of this Elvish Lady and her purposes." He says she tempted them, pretending to have the power to give what she seemed to offer. Readers can infer she offered Boromir something to increase his power, such as the Ring, or glory in battle, or the kingship.

In The Lord of the Rings, how do Pippin and Merry travel similar but not identical paths?

From the beginning of the story, Merry and Pippin are a pair. Together, they assist in the conspiracy, and they both accompany Frodo and Sam on the way to Rivendell. They are both added to the Company of Frodo's quest last, to complete the quota of "nine walkers." They are captured by Orcs and taken forcibly toward Isengard. As a pair, they meet Treebeard and accompany the Ents on their march. After Saruman's power is taken away at Orthanc, however, their paths diverge. Each one then travels a separate, but similar path, with several events running parallel. Both meet a great leader and pledge their loyalty to that leader's land: Pippin meets Denethor and becomes a soldier of Gondor, while Merry meets Théoden and becomes a soldier of Rohan. Both fight in battles before finally returning home together after Sauron's fall, and continuing their friendship as leaders in the Shire. These events suggest part of their growing up, or coming of age, is leaving what is comfortable to go alone into danger. Even though their friendship is important, they needed to have experiences separately, learning to face danger and even death alone, in order to complete their personal journeys.

In The Lord of the Rings, what is the main problem with Boromir's suggestion that the Company take the One Ring to Minas Tirith?

Boromir's suggestion that the Company take the Ring to Minas Tirith, in The Fellowship of the Ring (Book 2, Chapter 10), is problematic because it is a plan that confronts Sauron's strength with strength. It will therefore be expected, and countered, thus making Sauron's victory more likely—a victory that would give Sauron the Ring. In addition, people who are strong and seek power, like Boromir, are more likely to be tempted to claim the Ring as their own, another outcome that could spell disaster. The choice the Company must make between going to Mordor and going to Minas Tirith is essentially the same one they have had all along: fight Sauron outright, with soldiers and strength, or send a helpless hobbit into Mordor to destroy Sauron's Ring.

In The Lord of the Rings, why does Aragorn tell Boromir, "You have conquered"?

Even though Boromir was overcome temporarily by the evil influence of the One Ring, he made amends by giving his own life to save others: when the Orcs attack, he fights them to protect Merry and Pippin, becoming fatally wounded in the process. In addition, he confesses his wrongdoing to Aragorn, saying, "I tried to take the Ring from Frodo ... I am sorry. I have paid." Giving one's life to save others, confessing wrongdoing, and apologizing or seeking forgiveness are all actions Tolkien's Catholic faith would have taught him were morally correct. Boromir's actions at the end of his life, in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 1), would gain him the moral victory, even if he failed in more obvious ways.

In The Lord of the Rings, what does Aragorn mean when he says a Man may walk in both "legends" and in "daylight"?

In The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 2), Éomer is amazed by Aragorn's lineage and sword, which are both tied to "legends"—tales of old involving Elendil, Isildur, and the "sword that was broken." Aragorn is clearly part of this legendary story. Later, in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 6), a guard at Edoras says to Aragorn, "It seems that you are come on the wings of song out of the forgotten days." Yet, Aragorn is still a living Man who does actions in the "daylight"—in the present. He can travel, fight, talk, and fall in love. For Aragorn, who lives as a Man as well as the heir to a legendary reign, it is only natural he should answer, "A man may do both," when asked, "Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?"

In The Lord of the Rings, how do the different strengths of the hobbits and the Ents help advance the fight against Saruman?

Ents are very old, having been around since the early ages of the world, so they have a great deal of knowledge about Saruman, Gandalf, and other important characters. They are patient, reluctant to become involved in the troubles of the world, and slow to take action. Yet, they are very strong and tough. In contrast, the hobbits are young and impulsive (hasty). They have lived apart from the rest of the world, safe in the Shire, and are physically weak. Neither the hobbits Pippin and Merry nor the Ents could, or would, oppose Saruman on their own. Ents would have a hard time getting motivated to do it, and hobbits would simply be too small to make a difference. Their opposite strengths, in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 4), work perfectly together, at just the right time, to conquer Isengard and overthrow Saruman.

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Tolkien use Gandalf and Saruman to develop ideas about the uses of power and knowledge?

Because Gandalf and Saruman are both wizards, and both have extensive power, knowledge, and influence over others, a comparison of how they use their influence can shed light on Tolkien's ideas about power. Saruman uses his influence as a member of the Counsel of the Wise to gain spies, such as Gríma Wormtongue, and to hoard knowledge of the Ring for himself. He uses his knowledge to transform Isengard into an industrial, weapon- and Orc-producing city, exploiting nature with abandon to accomplish his goals. He uses his already expansive power to try to obtain the Ring so that he can have ultimate power—challenging Sauron for complete mastery. In contrast, Gandalf allies himself with the small and helpless, using his great power on behalf of others, and even sacrificing himself in Moria for the sake of the Company. He has great knowledge, but uses it in the fight against Sauron. The difference between the two wizards is symbolized by the colors of their robes. Saruman, who was once "the White," replaces his robes with many-colored ones, saying, "White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken." Gandalf replies, "In which case it is no longer white ... And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." Saruman, then, uses power to "improve" the world by changing it in ways ultimately destructive, while Gandalf is seen as a protector of those things which are good and should remain.

In The Lord of the Rings, how does Tolkien use light and dark imagery to describe the way Gandalf persuades Théoden to listen to his advice?

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses light, especially light from the heavens such as starlight and sunlight, to symbolize hope and freedom from Sauron's influence. Shadow and darkness are used to represent the power of Sauron; it is no coincidence that his main servants, the Ringwraiths, are blind in the sun and must sense the living world using other abilities. Because Théoden is under the influence of Saruman, who, in turn, has been corrupted by desire for Sauron's Ring, the battle for Théoden's heart is depicted as a struggle between light and hope versus shadow and obscured vision in The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 6). For example, in persuading Théoden to listen to him, Gandalf points with his staff to a high window: "There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky." He also tells the king, "Too long have you sat in shadows," and "Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find." As Théoden slowly stands up, a "faint light grew in the hall again" and a beam of sunlight pierces the clouds: "already the storm that had come out of the East was receding, rolling away southward to the sea. Suddenly through a rent in the clouds behind them a shaft of sun stabbed down. The falling showers gleamed like silver, and far away the river glittered like a shimmering glass."

In The Lord of the Rings, why does Théoden compare himself to an "old tree under winter snow"?

A simile compares two things using words of comparison, such as like or as. In The Two Towers (Book 3, Chapter 7), Théoden says he was "bent like an old tree under winter snow." But now, he says, "a west wind has shaken the boughs." He is comparing his physical and mental state to that of an old tree that has so much snow on its branches, they bend under the weight. A "west wind" (recall that Mordor is to the east and Valinor is to the west)—brought by Gandalf—shakes the snow off the boughs, lightening the burden Théoden has felt under Saruman's influence. The word "winter" can also describe the darkness Théoden felt, a darkness and bleakness usually associated with the winter months.

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