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The Lord of the Rings | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What is nature's role in The Lord of the Rings, and what are its characteristics?

Natural areas, especially forests, are a prominent feature of The Lord of the Rings. Overall, peoples and groups that preserve nature, such as Elves and Ents, are seen as noble or good. Those who ruin nature, such as Saruman, are seen as evil or corrupt. Nature plays a role in defining the morality of the story. It affects the plot, as characters must travel through marshes, forests, mountains, and plains. It reveals the strengths, determination, and problem-solving skills of characters, as it presents them with challenges. Nature itself, however, is not inherently good or bad. It is awake, and it is wild: trees are aware and move around, and some seem to whisper. Elves are known to speak to trees and understand their thoughts. Nature can become malicious: Old Man Willow is an excellent example.

In The Lord of the Rings, what is the effect of having large parts of The Return of the King, Book 5, focus on the perspectives of Merry and Pippin?

Book 5, Chapter 6 of The Return of the King focuses on the perspective of Merry, giving readers a view of this important battle from the standpoint of the most (seemingly) insignificant soldier. Readers have the sense of looking up from below, as Éowyn reveals her true identity and challenges the Black Rider, and as the Black Rider stands "tall and threatening, towering above her." It is also important that Merry is overlooked by so many other powerful people and creatures, as this gives him opportunity to sneak up on the Black Rider and witness the fall of Théoden. In similar fashion, the battle at the end of Book 5, Chapter 10 focuses on the perspective of Pippin. Pippin's small stature allows him to escape notice by the troll-chief that knocks out Beregond, so he can stab him. In both cases, the relative weakness of the hobbits gives them a unique view of the battle, and a unique ability to strike surprising blows against their enemies. This allows Tolkien to show the vital importance of the smallest and weakest in the fight against evil.

How does Gandalf's statement, "I also am a steward," make sense of his role in the war against Sauron in The Lord of the Rings?

A steward takes care of something belonging to another. Thus, the Steward of Gondor takes care of the kingdom in the king's absence. Gandalf is a steward of Eru Ilúvatar (the "God" figure in Tolkien's mythos from The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1 of The History of Middle-earth), and in this role takes care of "all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands" and that "grow fair or bear fruit and flower." This claim, in The Return of the King (Book 5, Chapter 1), clarifies Gandalf's role in the war against Sauron, because it reveals his motivation to preserve what is beautiful and good in the world, rather than gaining power or simply "fighting evil." This is why using the Ring to overthrow Sauron is not an acceptable outcome—it would not preserve what is good because, ultimately, whoever claimed the Ring would become just as evil as Sauron. It also makes sense in the fact that Gandalf is so interested in hobbits and the Shire, because the simple beauty of the Shire and its folk are in peril.

During Aragorn's coronation in The Lord of the Rings, why does Aragorn initially give the crown back to Faramir?

Aragorn gives the crown back to Faramir in The Return of the King (Book 6, Chapter 5) because he wants to acknowledge he did not gain his kingdom through his own efforts. He asks the crown be given to Frodo, who will give it Gandalf, who will place it on Aragorn's head, symbolically giving credit to Frodo, the Ring-bearer, and Gandalf, who was the "mover of all that has been accomplished." This action shows that Aragorn is mindful of the many people who came together to fight Sauron; his own deeds were just one part of the whole, even though he is receiving the glory. It reveals even as he gains power, he remains the humble and grounded Strider.

How does Sam's statement that "folk takes their peril with them into Lórien" apply to Boromir and to the story in The Lord of the Rings?

Boromir was already under the influence of the One Ring when the Company entered Lothlórien, and his true desires were likely revealed to himself and to Galadriel when she "tested" him. So he brought his "peril" with him in The Two Towers (Book 4, Chapter 5) because it was a part of him—his desire for power and victory and his vulnerability to the Ring's influence. However, the Company also brings the One Ring into Lothlórien. It is an evil object and has the potential to cause great harm to the whole world. It is undeniably an object of great peril to all of them. So they also take their peril with them.

In "The Last Debate" of The Lord of the Rings, why does Gandalf use a gardening metaphor to describe their task?

Gandalf uses a gardening (or farming) metaphor, in The Return of the King (Book 5, Chapter 9), to tell the other decision makers their job is to simply do what is in their power to fight evil without worrying about what will happen if other evils arise in the future: "Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till." This articulates one of the main moral messages of Tolkien's story: each person has a responsibility to do his or her part in the fight against evil, and the fact that their success may be limited (in the grand scheme of things) is irrelevant. A person's part may be large or small; he or she still must do it. Gandalf extends the metaphor by referring to the weather a gardener or farmer might see: "What weather [those in the future] shall have is not ours to rule." So, the fact that others in the future might have to fight evil again does not mean those in the present should give up the fight. This also underlines the importance of the natural world over the dominance of industry and weapons of destruction. Evil (industry and weapons of destruction) must be uprooted from the earth to prepare the land for new crops (the natural world).

How does Tolkien portray female characters in The Lord of the Rings?

Some readers feel there are too few female characters in The Lord of the Rings. This lack is largely due to Tolkien's life experiences, which were primarily in male-dominated arenas such as the war front and the academic life of the time. But how does Tolkien characterize the female characters that do appear? Arwen is shown to be gracious, beautiful, and patient—all qualities typically praised as female qualities. She sacrifices her birthright to stay with Aragorn. As a character, Arwen is more akin to the noble ladies of medieval literature or Arthurian legend. Galadriel is also gracious and beautiful; however, she is very powerful, seems to be quite independent, and is her husband's equal in all ways. Éowyn is a warrior, and chafes at the boundaries imposed on her because she is a woman. She dresses as a man so that she can join the battle. She seems patterned after women such as Joan of Arc, who defied convention in order to lead her people to victory in battle.

How do the songs and poems throughout The Lord of the Rings develop the theme of storymaking, and what other effects do they have on the narrative?

Many of the songs and poems in The Lord of the Rings develop the idea of storymaking by showing how current events in the story fit into the overall history of Tolkien's world. For example, references in song to Gil-galad, who fought alongside Elendil against Sauron, show readers Aragorn, Elendil's descendant, belongs in this story. These songs often help readers understand how The Lord of the Rings intersects with the rest of Tolkien's mythos. Some songs, however, serve to develop character. The songs of the hobbits about taking baths, drinking, and other everyday pleasures ("Sing hey! for the bath at close of day") serve this function.

What is the symbolic significance of Sam's action with the soil given to him by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings?

Sam uses the soil from Galadriel's orchards to replace all the trees that were cut down in the Shire in The Return of the King (Book 6, Chapter 8). The cutting down of trees is an indication of evil in The Lord of the Rings. As a resident tells the hobbits, "They cut down trees and let 'em lie, they burn houses and build no more." And in Isengard, Saruman has cut down trees as he became more under the evil influence of Sauron. So, in planting trees, Sam repairs a small part of the damage done by evil. This is both a practical action (it results in new trees being planted) and a symbolic one (it restores the world). Sam's action also mirrors the replanting of the White Tree in Minas Tirith, which marks the beginning of a new age in Middle-earth. In many ways, new trees in the Shire mark the beginning of a new age there as well.

Why does Frodo leave Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings, and why does Sam stay?

Frodo sails away from Middle-earth on an Elven ship in The Return of the King (Book 6, Chapter 9) because he is too wounded and broken from his experiences to go on, and needs additional healing that he cannot find in the Shire. He has relapses into the misery that the Ring and Ringwraiths caused him. He cannot enjoy life. Because Arwen gave up her place on the Elven ship, Frodo is able to travel to Valinor to find healing and peace. Sam stays in Middle-earth and finds happiness and peace through the usual route: time. He marries, has a family, and makes a positive difference in healing the Shire from its hurts. This shows that sometimes wars are fought to preserve and protect something precious and worth saving, like simple family life, love, good food, friends, and gardens. Sam fought to protect these things, and he now gets to share them. Frodo also fought, but he saved them not for himself, but for others: "I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me ... some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them."

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