March into Middle-Earth: Focus on the Fellowship

March into Middle-Earth (text banner over background of Tolkien's map)

One of the many great joys of re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring is re-setting my memories from the films to the original text. Don’t get me wrong – I love the film (and Fellowship is by far my favourite), but there’s an awful lot of re-interpretation of character for cinematic purposes. Today I shall flail happily about spending time with some old friends.


Frodo - drawing by Alan Lee, based on Elijah Wood
Frodo – by Alan Lee

Tall for a hobbit, slightly remote, generally level-headed, but given to panic in extreme circumstances. Frodo runs down the riverbank waving his arms in the air as his friends get eaten by trees and puts the Ring on at all the wrong times. But crucially, he does it all with a quiet core of commitment and courage that Elijah Wood’s tortured puppy-dog eyes never captured for me. And he does keep his head in the Barrow Downs. Frodo isn’t my favourite character, but he gets my respect in the books. Sorry, Elijah.



Sean Astin as Samwise, smoking a pipe
Sean Astin as Samwise

Dodgy accent aside, Jackson and Astin did a pretty good job with Samwise. He’s solid common sense and stubborn courage, quietly tagging along behind Mr Frodo (it’s not just the Council of Elrond he sneaks into for those paying attention) and far more observant than his upper-class companions give him credit for. Sam is basically awesome in every way. Claire declared early for #TeamSamwise and I’m not far behind her; he’s always been a firm favourite.




Gandalf smoking a pipe, painted by Alan Lee
Gandalf – painting by Alan Lee

Gandalf is wise, short-tempered and compassionate. He hides how much he cares under his gruff exterior, and the world conspires to make him grumpier by the year, but there’s never a doubt that if you need to phone a friend, he’s the one to pick. Unless you’re being frivolous, in which case he’ll probably bark. He’s given to making threats that he’d never follow through on (poor Barliman Butterbur), and he’s spectacularly capable with sword and sorcery. Peter Jackson knew better than to mess with Gandalf; the only liberty he really took was setting off some fireworks for young hobbits on the way to the Party.



Aragorn - painting by John Howe
Aragorn – painting by John Howe

HOORAY! Oh, Aragorn son of Arathorn, how I’ve missed you. I love his courage, his commitment, his wisdom, and his absolute certainty of his inheritance. You never doubt that he knows what he’s doing and you get a real sense of his travels and his experience. You know, all those details Peter Jackson ditched in favour of deep-seated angst.

Sure, growing up with Elrond giving you the evils because you fancy his daughter could lead to self-esteem issues, but Aragorn was grown up when he met Arwen and I doubt it ever occurred to Elrond that his daughter might fall for a mere Man. He’s seen enough of Isildur’s heirs come and go not to think this one is anything special. Silly Elrond.



Oh crikey. I absolutely love the exchanges at the Council of Elrond, where Boromir basically has pissing contests with both Gandalf and Aragorn.

“For few, I deem, know of our deeds, and therefore guess little at their peril, if we should fail at last. Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Númenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten. By our valour… are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us.”

To which Aragorn smoothly responds:

“If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part. Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay.. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us.”

And soon it’s Gandalf’s turn for verbal one-up-man-ship:

“There lies in Minas Tirith still, unread, I guess by any save Saruman and myself since the kings failed, a scroll that Isildur made himself. For Isildur did not march aware straight from the war in Mordor, as some have told the tale.”

“Some in the North, maybe,” Boromir broke in. “All know in Gondor that he went first to Minas Anor and dwelt a while with his nephew Meneldil, instructing him, before he committed to him the rule of the South Kingdom.”

“But in that time also he made this scroll,” said Gandalf; “and that is not remembered in Gondor, it would seem.”

Nobody puts Baby Gandalf in the corner. Almost everything that comes out of Boromir’s mouth is one big bundle of proud self-importance. Thankfully he’s brave and he pulls his weight, but he also takes every opportunity to have a dig at decisions he doesn’t agree with.

Boromir may be the only character I prefer on film, because Sean Bean. HALLO SEAN BEAN. Also, those wonderful scenes in the film that show him teaching the younger hobbits and having a sense of humour. They may be Jackson’s invention, but they’re much-needed. Because Boromir is a hero, both at home in Gondor and on the slopes of Amon Hen when Merry and Pippin need him to be, however badly he may have failed Frodo. It’s right that I get all choked up. Oh, Sean Bean Boromir.


Legolas and Gimli

Ah, the bromance. Sure, it’s in its early days in Fellowship – it doesn’t really get going until Gimli prostrates himself in front of Galadriel (good choice, Gimli) – but the seeds are sown. I was never really sure why Jackson inserted the racial tensions between Dwarves and Elves at the Council. Sure, most of the Elves at that Council would have memories of Dwarves making poor choices in the past, and Glóin is rightly sniffy about Gollum getting better treatment from the Elves of Mirkwood than he did. But Gimli has grown up in an Erebor closely-allied with Thranduil’s folk. He’s got no excuse to be thundering ‘Never trust an Elf’. Unnecessary tension, much?

Here, there’s the odd carefully-navigated moment (“Dwarves did not make the evil,” said Gimli. “I said not so; yet evil came,” answered Legolas sadly), but they mostly get along just fine until Haldir insists on blindfolding Gimli in Lothlórien. It’s a temporary glitch, and from here the two become increasingly inseparable.

Oddly, when the Fellowship breaks, Aragorn makes clear that his choice would be to accompany Frodo into Mordor with Sam and Gimli. I’d entirely forgotten this, and it puzzles me. Obviously Boromir must go to Minas Tirith, and Aragorn is keen to keep the younger hobbits out of Mordor, but I’m unclear why he’d choose Gimli over Legolas (although he’s willing to cede the point and take both of them). It’s the complete opposite of the films, where Aragorn and Legolas are so pally – if only to make the point that Aragorn is in with the Elves, I think.


Merry and Pippin

Quite apart from being almost always referenced as Merry, which is nicely agender, our Brandybuck is consistently thoughtful, intuitive and surprisingly grown-up. Re-reading, I start to think Peter Jackson threw Merry under the bus in Fellowship in the name of comic relief, as I don’t think any of this came across.

Pippin, on the other hand, was always comic relief for a grim company. He feels younger, there’s the occasional whiff of over-privilege (“Sam! Get the breakfast ready for half-past nine! Have you got the bath-water hot?”), and he has neither Merry’s sense nor Sam’s courage. He doesn’t really get to shine until the later books, but is one of the few characters I enjoy as much in the films as on page.

Merry and Pippin don’t get a lot of mentions in Fellowship (especially once the Company leaves Rivendell), but Merry is almost always reflective. So much so, that the two young hobbits’ contributions to the discussion on the lawn at Parth Galen seem reversed: here for the first time, Pippin shows more insight that Merry.

“That won’t do at all!” cried Merry. “We can’t leave Frodo! Pippin and I always intended to go wherever he went, and we still do. But we did not realise what that would mean. It seemed different so far away, in the Shire or in Rivendell. It would be mad and cruel to let Frodo go to Mordor. Why can’t we stop him?”

“We must stop him,” said Pippin. “And that is what he is worrying about, I am sure. He knows we shan’t agree to his going east. And he doesn’t like to ask anyone to go with him, poor old fellow. Imagine it: going off to Mordor alone!” Pippin shuddered. “But the dear, silly old hobbit, he ought to know that he hasn’t got to ask. He ought to know that if we can’t stop him, we shan’t leave him.” 

If it weren’t for the fact that Merry directly references Pippin, I’d think this was an editorial error and the comments were each attributed to the wrong hobbit.

I find I’m really excited about the development I know is just around the corner for these two.

On to The Two Towers? Soon. Very soon.

Who are your favourites amongst the Fellowship?

Nine walkers (the Fellowship of the Ring) silhouetted against a mountainous skyline