R The Barrow-Downs: Articles - The Quest for the Empirical Hobbit - Agon: The Conflcit Part II : On Our Own

Today's Date in the Shire
23 Foreyule
T.A. 3018: The Company of the Ring stays in Rivendell preparing for the journey ahead.
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The Quest for the Empirical Hobbit:
A Comparative Study of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Agon - The Conflict
Part II: On our own


Having decided to take on the quest alone, Sam and Frodo cross the Anduin and start their first journey through a wasteland - in Frye's terms, fertility's struggle against sterility (193). Here they meet up with the wretched creature Gollum for the first time. The love/hate relationship with Gollum is very interesting and complex, and Tolkien saw parallels in the relationship Sam/Gollum to the relationship Ariel/Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Sam's distrustful treatment of Gollum equals that of Ariel's towards Caliban (Letters 77; The Tempest 80). Gollum's destiny is closely connected to Frodo and the Ring, as Gandalf points out: "he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet" (LR 73), and the fact is that without Gollum the two hobbits would never have been able to find their way through the Dead Marshes, or to enter the land of Mordor, or most important, been able to destroy the Ring. He has many different sides and is "certainly the most complex, and interesting character in Middle-Earth" (Jacobsen 20).

After the journey in the wilderness, The Hobbits get their last chance to rest before the Fiery Mountain. They meet with Boromir's brother, Faramir, who is a totally different person altogether than his brother. The meeting plays an important role more than just giving them the rest they so badly need. As Helms points out, Gandalf is able to get the information of the whereabouts of The Hobbit is through Faramir, and thus "there is hope in continuing to distract Sauron's attention from his own land" (106), in which lies the only hope of their futile mission. In The Hobbit, Bilbo is also able to reach a sanctuary after his escapade with the Elvenking, and the succeeding trip down the river, when he and the dwarves reach the town of Esgaroth. From here on they travel through their wasteland - the Desolation of Smaug - in order to reach their final destination - the Lonely Mountain.

In both novels we have now reached a stage with great symbolic meaning. The journey through the tunnel, or the "vagina" (Helms 49), and maybe it is here that we see the true value of Bilbo's courage. As Frodo and Sam enters the tunnel at Cirith Ungol, they are both unaware of what awaits them at the end of it. The only one who knows anything about it is Shelob's fellow conspirator, Gollum. Bilbo on the other hand, is fully aware of what awaits him. He enters the tunnel with the knowledge that he must face the most hideous creature that inhabits Middle-Earth, a dragon, and he goes in of his own free will. "It is time for him to perform the service for which he was included in [the] Company....and going from there was the bravest thing he ever did" (H 194, 197). "No one can fight a dragon, but everyone can fight fear" (Shippey 61).

In Freudian terms, this episode is filled with unconscious sexual symbolism. The mountain with its two outstretching slopes and the tunnel in the middle of it, is the woman's spread legs awaiting Bilbo to enter her vagina; just like the vagina he left at Bag End (Helms 57-58). It is of course not safety he is going back to, but total insecurity and therefore it can not be the pudenda of the mother, but must be that of reality and the life of adulthood. To Bilbo this task is carried out with success, and he is able to steal the two-handled cup. The cup is in itself a romance symbol of female sexuality, the woman being the food-provider, just as the bleeding lance is the male counterpart. The cup symbol goes back to Beowulf, and earlier than that, to The Holy Grail of Christ (Frye 194).

The heroism is now flowing through Bilbo, and foolishly he enters the dragon's lair a second time. This time he underestimates Smaug, who has discovered the theft. As he barely escapes alive, he has learnt another important lesson. Just as the first encounter with the dragon has revealed a hidden hero in him, the second encounter teaches him the importance of being humble and to show respect. Again we are given evidence of the two different directions in which The Hobbits' characters are heading. Bilbo is getting more and more independent and self-reliant, while Frodo depends on the help of others, first the guidance of Gollum, and when he finally betrays Frodo, on the help of his trusted servant and right arm, Sam.

At the pass of Cirith Ungol, when Frodo is attacked by Shelob from behind, "with one swift stroke [she] had stung him in the neck" (LR 757), Sam is himself attacked by Gollum. He has no chance of saving his master as he has to fight for his own life. Here we see the role of the hero slowly shifting from Frodo to Sam. He is filled with rage and does not even consider the odds of a hobbit defeating a monster like Shelob. Out of genuine love for his master he performs an act of bravery that equals those of Bilbo's. From this moment and onwards, he is the one who must function as hero and take the Ring to its final destination. Frodo is dead, or so he believes, and so he takes the Ring from him and prepares to set out for the Mountain on his own. He does not even contemplate failure, or giving up. Even though he is a more down-to-earth hobbit, and dependant on others to tell him what to do, he brings up the courage that we earlier only have seen in Bilbo and Frodo. For the first time, Sam is able to make decisions on his own, and that only because he is on his own.

The giant spider has by many critics been seen as a flaw of Tolkien's, also used in the chapter "Flies and Spiders" in The Hobbit, and in Silmarillion with the demi-god Ungoliant, but if seen from a symbolic perspective, Shelob becomes "the feminine counterpart to Sauron". While he is the symbol of anti-life, i.e. Death, Shelob "represents destruction and physical corruption, the opposites of generation and birth" (Keenan 72, 75). In other words, she is the antithesis of Keenan's Child symbol, as discussed above. But as we know Tolkien's attitude towards symbolism, the criticism is well-founded when it comes to our standards of relism, a spider like Shelob may seem pathetic and unrealistic. But she is a part of the reality and world order of Middle-Earth, and as such, a natural, though rare, creature.

As my tutor for this essay, Lennart Nyberg, has pointed out, it is difficult to overlook the concept of allegorical interpretations when it comes to the works of Tolkien. He was himself opposed to intentional allegory, but not to allegorical tendencies and language (Jacobsen 2). The difficult question is how to define allegory. When does symbolism become allegory? Or is it that symbolism is the same as allegory? The line is very vague, and that which separates the two concepts could be whether or not the symbolism is intentional. After all, Tolkien's world is fraught with allegorical devices, as is the language he uses.

When he discovers that his master is alive, Sam cannot, of course, leave Frodo in the hands of the orcs: "he no longer had any doubt about his duty: he must rescue his master or perish in the attempt" (LR 931). So he performs yet another act of selflessness and goes to beard the lion in his den. The Hobbits never cease to amaze the rest of the world with their down-to-earth heroism. "The simple 'rustic' love of Sam...is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character" (Letters 161). Here we see how right Zimbardo is in her statement that the real trait of The Hobbits is love. With a combination of courage and the orcs' tendency to fight each other, luckily Sam is able to rescue Frodo.

Sam is only Ringbearer for a short period of time, and thus never harmed by the evil powers of the Ring. In the tower, he gives it back to Frodo of his own free will, an altogether remarkable performance. In this scene we witness one of the Ring's truly dark sides: the ability to transform people. Realising that the Ring has been taken away from him, even though from the best of intentions, Frodo turns aggressive and is transformed, if only for a moment, into Gollum: "Give it to me!...Give it me at once! You can't have it!...you thief!" (LR 946). This transformation is likewise seen in the character of Bilbo when he is to hand the Ring over to Frodo via Gandalf: "It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious" (LR 46). The power of the Ring is treacherous and unreliable as it is able to transform people "according to the stature of its user" (Fuller 25), and we can see how devastating it would have been if it was to come into the hands of the powerful, say Aragorn, Saruman, Galadriel, or Sauron.

In his discussion on one typical form of the romance, the dragon-killing, Frye recalls some often occurring elements of this type of quest. Some of these we see in Bilbo's adventure such as the old helpless ruler (the Master of Esgaroth), the wasteland laid bare by the dragon (the Desolation of Smaug), and the succession of a new king (Bard the Bowman). Other elements are missing such as the sacrifice of children to appease the dragon, or the marriage of the King's daughter to the hero (189). This shows us that Tolkien has not only drawn his tale upon ancient mythical themes, but also added a few of his own. There is the division of the role of the hero into two, with Bilbo as the anti-hero, and the more modest role of the dragonslayer, Bard. The lack of a love-story between man and woman is also evident, and there is really no room for a elaborate love-story. Bilbo has to go through his own personal development before he can engage himself in a relationship that is, perhaps, even more complex than the one he has with the dwarves, or with the quest as a whole, for that matter.

One of the more complex aspect of Tolkien's works is his division of the role of the hero, something the critics of the quest theme that I have studied, have not paid any attention to. As we have seen, in The Hobbit, we have two heroes, Bilbo and Bard. In The Lord of the Rings, there is an even greater division of the hero, as there are several parallel plots running throughout the novel. Gandalf and Aragorn could be seen as divine heroes, with their noble ancestry as background, and their roles as leaders of the armies of the West. Sam and Frodo are the obvious heroes to us as they are the ones that carry out the most important task of them all. Merry is, in his own right, a true hero as he helps Eowyn kill the Witch-king of Angmar. Even Gollum has a heroic part, or should we say anti-heroic, as he is the one that destroys the Ring. It feels like I could go on like this with almost all the main characters, as they all seem to perform some heroic deed, in one way or another. It is here that we see Tolkien's strength as a storyteller as he is able to keep the tale going on so many different places, and levels.

A concept of Frye's that is very much appropriate in a discussion of Tolkien's works, is the character type he calls Golux. Helms uses this term in his discussion of Tom Bombadil (94), and even though his arguments are quite convincing, I think he has overlooked one character who also fits this description, namely Sam Gamgee. Frye talks of "the children of nature. . . who serve the hero", and even though Sam does not possess supernatural powers, he is very close to nature. He is the gardener, and cares very much for all living things, especially those who grow out of the earth. When he later returns home, he runs "up and down the Shire" in order to restore the scourging of the land, caused by Saruman and his gang (LR 1061). Frye is also looking for a connection between the Golux of the romance, and the Agroikos of the comedy, i.e. "the refuser of festivity or rustic clown". Again, this is applicable to Sam. He is the one who never appreciates a joke, "the refuser of festivity", and yet he is the comic gardener, "the rustic clown", that gives us quite a few laughs throughout the story without himself being aware of it.

Finally, before we go into the second phase of Frye's "complete form of the romance", there needs to be said a few words about yet another quality discovered in Bilbo: his sense of justice, as discussed by Paul H. Kocher (29-30). After the death of Smaug, there arises a conflict over the treasure between the dwarves on the one side, and the Men of Esgaroth on the other side. Who are the rightful owners? How shall the treasure be divided? Bilbo tries to work as a mediator in the conflict, but due to the stubbornness on both sides, there is a stalemate. He sees that the people of Esgaroth is in desperate need of help, as their town has been wiped out by Smaug, and therefore he gives them his "own fourteenth share" (H 253) of the recovered treasure.

When Bilbo takes the Arkenstone as his share, it is another step forward in his development towards complete independence. He now sees himself as a full-grown member of the Company, and is able to make a decision without consulting the dwarves, just as Sam was able to make his. This scene corresponds to Propp's nineteenth function concerning lack-liquidation, where "the object of a search is abducted by means of force or cleverness". Propp mentions that the hero often uses the same means as the villains do (48), and in our case, Bilbo is actually stealing the jewel from Thorin. His act of justice, as I mentioned before, shows when he so unreservedly gives the Arkenstone to the people in need, an altogether astonishing exhibition of compassion and unselfishness - "his virtue of moral courage" (Shippey 66). Who would have guessed that this is the same hobbit who refused to go out on any adventures at all, at the beginning of the story?

Continue to: Pathos - The Death-Struggle

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