Glimpses of a Redeemer in Lord of the Rings

This is a plot begging for a redeemer.

This analysis is based on the film version of the franchise. My incomplete knowledge of the books obligates me to view it through the lens of the camera.

When confronted with the question of moral complexity, I found the best way to determine the answer between these two universes was first to examine the implications of good and evil that each world holds. The most direct way to determine this is by looking at the main character and their journey to goodness and heroism. In The Lord of the Rings this aspect is interesting. In order for Frodo to complete his quest, he must become corrupted. It is in Frodo’s struggle that we see a Hobbit, the humblest of Tolkien creatures, make a choice to allow himself to be corrupted for the greater good rather than save himself from evil. This of itself makes the morality complex, but the result of his quest makes it even more complicated; this is a plot begging for a redeemer.

When The Lord of the Rings begins, we see a rather innocent Hobbit living in perhaps the most sheltered environment in all of Middle Earth. Protected by the Shire, Frodo Baggins knows little of outside events and is oblivious to the evil rising beyond the Brandywine Bridge. Very quickly, we see this little character thrust into a world of epic proportion, where there’s more to fear than missing the midday meal. Carrying with him the ring, he sets off with Samwise by his side.

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As we follow his journey, we see the affects that the ring has, on both Frodo and others.

In Gollum, the ring has taken a deep and permanent hold. Gollum is the proverbial cautionary tale given to Frodo. Although the Hobbit shows some resilience to the ring’s affects, we see him twist and turn in respect to the ring’s wishes, always returning, however, to goodness. It is this experience that allows him to pity Gollum, knowing full well the passions the ring causes to ensue in his own heart.

Boromir, also, is affected by the ring. The vice to Aragorn’s virtue, he shows us how men truly are in respect to evil. The power tempts the race of man, manipulating their thoughts, causing their hearts to desire for evil. We do see Boromir turn from these ways soon before his death in battle, adding a redemptive flavor to this ring business.

Frodo also observes the changes the ring has made in his uncle, Bilbo. Although brief, this interaction is perhaps the most significant. Here, we see a character that is familiar to Frodo affected by the ring’s power. As Bilbo startlingly lunges for the ring, we are shown that any being can be corrupted by its evil presence. It is during this scene that we are formally confronted with the reality of the task Frodo has taken on, suggesting a similar fate for Frodo.

As the plot thickens, we see glimpses of the ring in Frodo, as he turns against his true friend, Samwise, to put his trust in Gollum. We see a picture of Christ in Sam, as he continues to support Frodo and encourages him in correct paths. Even in the face of rejection, Sam returns to Frodo, to help him stumble along the road, and carry him to the end, bearing Frodo’s burden. It is clear that Sam is the moral rock throughout the story.

In the heart of Mount Doom, Frodo is overcome by the forces of the ring, and chooses its power. In the end, the ring is destroyed, but we have still seen the corruption of the main character. Frodo, nonetheless, has been redeemed by completing his journey. Sam rescues him from certain death, ultimately completing his quest, and Frodo’s mind is cleared.

His return home is bittersweet. Unlike a typical hero, he has no triumphant return home. He returns damaged and scathed, unable to function in his own society. Because of this, he chooses to leave his friends behind, setting sail to spend eternity in paradise.

The redeemer here is implied. It is clear that the characters have been redeemed because of a higher being. Although the forces of Good have several faces (Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf) there is no definitive God figure. However, a god is implied. Higher forces of Good and Evil are a prominent theme. Sauron reflects Evil, but the forces of Good are more ambiguous. However, they can be found. There is clearly a heaven, and death is perceived as the gateway to the afterlife, as reflected in Gandalf’s conversation with Pippin (in Return of the King). Christian interpretation leads one to believe that the place Gandalf spoke of is the reward for the redeemed and that the Redeemer sends them to this place. Perhaps the absence of a definite god is Tolkien’s way of invoking self-examination. This an opportunity for us to search our own beliefs and ask ourselves: Who has redeemed us?

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