RWD Fellowship to the end

All right. What a reading experience! Thank you for coming with me on this journey with the hobbits.

The novel ends in a catastrophe for the fellowship and the story splintering off into different directions -- to be picked up again in The Two Towers.

Synopsis: the group has reached a point of decision. They can head towards Mordor, to take the ring to the place where it might be destroyed, or instead go to the human city of Gondor, where it might be protected. Mordor is the height of danger -- Boromir and Aragorn are drawn to Gondor. Frodo, himself, is teasing out a third option: that he goes on to Mordor alone.

Dangers are close by: Gollum has been following them and orcs are on the other side of the river. Aragorn leaves Frodo time to make up his mind on his own, but once Frodo is alone, Boromir approaches him and asks for the Ring. 

‘Ah! The Ring!’ said Boromir, his eyes lighting. ‘The Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing! And I have seen it only for an instant in the house of Elrond. Could I not have a sight of it again?’

Frodo looked up. His heart went suddenly cold. He caught the strange gleam in Boromir’s eyes, yet his face was still kind and friendly. ‘It is best that it should lie hidden,’ he answered.

Boromir begs for the Ring, and then demands it -- Frodo escapes from him, vanishing. Now Frodo is convinced he must go alone -- the Ring will corrupt anyone who comes with him. 

When they realise that Frodo is missing, the party breaks up, searching for him -- Sam, alone, understands where Frodo is going, and intercepts him at the boats. The novel ends with the two of them heading, unassisted, for Mordor.

At length they came to land again upon the southern slopes of Amon Lhaw. There they found a shelving shore, and they drew the boat out, high above the water, and hid it as well as they could behind a great boulder. Then shouldering their burdens, they set off, seeking a path that would bring them over the grey hills of the Emyn Muil, and down into the Land of Shadow.

Craft lesson: people don't change!

The character of Boromir is so well-drawn in this book, and one thing that is powerful about him -- he is so steady and resolute as a character. From the first moment we meet him, he has one goal: to seek aid for Gondor. As soon as he learns about the Ring, he wants to use it in the battle against Sauron's armies. And now, many twists and turns later, he makes essentially the same case to Frodo -- that Frodo should either commit to using the Ring to help Gondor -- or surrender it. 

There is a sense that Boromir changes twice -- you could argue it -- once because he is corrupted by the Ring and led to madness at the end of Fellowship -- and then redeemed by his doomed attempt, at the start of Two Towers, to save the hobbits. 

And yet -- notice that both Boromir's temptation and his recovery are basically offshoots of the person he already is. He was from the start seeking the Ring's power; he was from the start a heroic fighter. 

To speak in craft terms now: I sometimes think the world of fiction "craft" tends to over-emphasise the idea that character change in stories. I think this comes, in part, from a worthy ideal: to present characters in novels as rich, complex, and non-stereotypical. I also think it comes out of writers over-learning a technique from writing classes -- if the protagonist should change, then why not the villain? Why not the love interest? Why not the friend? The parents?

Of course, a story where all the characters change definitely can work. It might even be a tour de force. But I do not believe this goal is necessary to good fiction. Indeed, I think it can just make things muddy and unclear for the reader -- and devilishly complex for the writer. 

And this belief -- that people are prone to change -- does not seem to reflect everyday lived experience. You meet a train-obsessed acquaintance after five years apart, and the guy no longer is into trains -- now he is all about bird-watching; only he speaks about birds and bird nests with the same angry, haughty tone he previously used for locomotives. 

Boromir is a great character study in this regard. Tolkien shows him doing three things many times through the story:

  • arguing for the Ring's value in battle
  • staring at Frodo 
  • being a brave warrior

Nothing convinces Boromir to change course. When Elrond and Gandalf explain to him why the Ring cannot be used as a weapon of war, Tolkien says that Boromir regards them "doubtfully."

As the end of the book approaches, Tolkien gives us ample chance to read what is in Boromir's mind:

"his eyes fixed on Frodo..."

"Merry and Pippin in the middle boat were ill at ease, for Boromir sat muttering to himself, sometimes biting his nails, as if some restlessness or doubt consumed him..."

In other words, that is my craft tip to you. Make your supporting characters less change-y! Their depth and humanity comes from the depth of their convictions, not their ability to change. Paradoxically, the desire to give them clear arcs can make them more superficial, not less. Boromir is a deep, compelling, memorable character -- he wants what he wants and he is not looking for advice to the contrary, even though immortal beings warn him to change course. 

Do you agree with me about this? Other thoughts about the end of Fellowship?

Discuss here!

  • I agree that Boromir acted as Boromir would, & there was a reason why his father chose him to go represent Gondor. I don’t know how Tokien could manage to get the whole Fellowship through Mordor, & hints are given at the Rivendale scene that the group may not stay together. Tokien expanded the playing field with more threads to follow, & he will need to bring all of he threads together for the ending. At this point, I think the reader is vested in every character & ready for more plot lines.

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