Today's Date in the Shire
Fun and Games
Walk to Rivendell
Malbeth the Seer
The neutral individuals are often hard to define. Neutrality does not mean that they stand outside the conflict, because there are not any important characters in Lord of the Rings that do that. In this matter, neutrality concerns self-interest, and the outlook on life. The Neutrals fight for one side or another but in their minds they belong entirely to themselves. Their reasons for choosing sides are egoistic and self-preserving, and to the observer, it is sometimes hard to detect these reasons.
With peoples it is easier. Their choice is also self-preserving but it is often a political choice. It is made in the interest of survival. Not even the immortal elves, the symbol of goodness, are without faults, as Tolkien pointed out in a letter to a reader:
But the Elves are not wholly good or in the right. . . .They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal historical Middle-Earth because they had become fond of it . . . and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce . . . and they were overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret (Letters 197).
They certainly have selfish tendencies but cannot be considered as Neutrals. In spite of their blemishes, they are still a symbol of goodness, and will continue to be so.
Instead, we can turn our attention to the people of Rohan, the Rohirrim, and the people of Dunland, the Dunlendings; two neighbouring countries. For centuries they have been fighting each other over matters concerning border disputes. At the time of The War of the Ring, the Dunlendings ally themselves with the forces of the traitor Saruman, not because they sympathise with him and his cause, but because of their hatred towards the Rohirrim. They now have the means to invade Rohan and retake areas lost in the past, that they consider theirs.
In the same way Rohan joins the other side, the Good side, in order to protect themselves against the raids of the Dunlendings and the army of Saruman. Up till then, they have stated that they are not entirely on anybody's side, because nobody is entirely on their side: "we do not serve the power of the Black Land far away, but neither are we yet at open war with him" (LR 453). The Dunlendings are bad, the Rohirrim are good. Anyone who reads Lord of the Rings will certainly get this impression, as we are supposed to do. Tolkien wants us to side with the Rohirrim. He guides us by presenting them favourably so that we are sure to be on the right side in the end. The Dunlendings are doomed from the beginning. They have made their choice, the wrong one, and so, they fall with their allies, even though they choose out of self-preservation. They are presented as a corrupt and bad people. Even their appearances are swarthy and threatening while the Rohirrim are blond and fair. In other words, we are never meant to sympathise with the Dunlendings. The reason for this is simply that the story is told by the winners, the Good side. Therefore, the people of Dunland will always be remembered as an evil people, as recorded in the historical annals of Middle-Earth. If there had not been any animosity between the two countries, would the outcome have been the same?
To illustrate the neutrality of individual characters, I have chosen two who, technically speaking, both belong to the good side. One of them, Tom Bombadil, is of a good-hearted nature but refuses to involve himself in worldly matters, even though he has the crucial means of helping. The other one, Boromir of Minas Tirith, has intentions to do good, but they are of a more selfish nature. He wants to help his own people first of all, but fails in the end. Temptation wins over willpower, and the result of his actions furthers Sauron's cause. One is obviously good, and one is obviously bad. But looking more closely on these two characters, we find that the issue at hand is more complex than that.
Tom Bombadil is a mysterious and funny old man: "Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow/ Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow" (LR 139). He is one with nature and is not concerned with worldly matters, and lives peacefully on the outskirts of the forest with his wife Goldberry. When Frodo and his friends are rescued from Old Man Willow by Tom and brought to his house, they learn that he is a character of many mysteries. The most astonishing thing about him is that he is not affected by the Ring. It has no power over him as it has over others:
Tom put the Ring round the end of his little finger and held it up to the candlelight. For a moment the hobbits noticed nothing strange about this. Then they gasped. There was no sign of Tom disappearing! (LR 148).
Later on we learn that Tom Bombadil has walked the earth since the beginning of Time. This has raised many questions and discussions about his origin. Some critics even go so far as to say that he is the embodiment of Eru Ilúvatar, the Creator. In a letter to Peter Hastings, a bookshop keeper who had made such a suggestion, Tolkien refuted this interpretation (Letters 191-192). He never gave an explanation about the origin of Tom Bombadil, but he provided a reason for his existence: "Even in a mythical age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)" (174). In other words, Tom Bombadil is put in the plot so that not everything in the mythology seems to have an answer.
Whatever the reasons for his presence though, the fact remains that he possesses some extraordinary powers. He has the means to aid the Good side in this important quest, but he chooses not to. Later on, at the council of Elrond Halfelven, when it is suggested that the Ring should be given to Tom, Gandalf replies: "If he [is] given the Ring, he [will] soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind" (LR 283). This suggests that Tom Bombadil does not care about the fate of the world, a world that he himself is very fond of. If Sauron captures the Ring, Middle-Earth will find itself in eternal darkness, and its inhabitants will become Sauron's slaves forever. This goes for Tom Bombadil too. He will not be able to live the peaceful life with Goldberry in their little cottage, which he so much desires. More important, if he has the means to help save the world, it should be his moral obligation to do so, if not for his own sake, at least for the sake of the free peoples of Middle-Earth. In this light, Tom Bombadil belongs to the Undefinable category, the Neutrals, because he chooses not to take a stand.
Boromir, captain of Minas Tirith, is one of the eight members of the fellowship that are to escort Frodo on his quest to Mount Doom. At the council of Elrond, he is chosen for his great strength and skills in arms, but also as one of the representatives for Mankind. At this council, the Ring issue is discussed back and forth. What are they to do with it? In the end, it is decided that Frodo, as Ringbearer, shall carry it to Mount Doom, in the land of Mordor, i.e. Sauron's domains.
Boromir is of another opinion. He wants to use this great weapon, the Ring, against the enemy: "Why do you speak of ever hiding or destroying? Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need?" (LR 285). What he does not understand is that the Ring cannot be used for good purposes. Those who have the power to use the Ring, will themselves be corrupted by it, and eventually become like the Dark Lord himself. Boromir cannot fathom this, and from that moment the Ring is ever on his mind. He wants to bring it to Minas Tirith with the purpose of saving his people, and defeat Sauron. It is a noble thought, and we cannot blame Boromir for this. It is never his intention to cease power himself. He wants to save his country and people, just like the Dunlendings and the Rohirrim.
This desire to bring the Ring to Minas Tirith, eventually becomes his fall. In a moment of madness, he tries to take the Ring from Frodo, on the mountain of Amon Hen. He is drawn by the Ring as it is ever seeking a way to get to its master; Sauron. Frodo manages to escape, and from then on, the fellowship of the Ring is split up. For a second, the Ring takes control over Boromir's mind, but, and this is important to remember, he immediately regrets his actions. He understands what he has done is wrong, and repents: "a madness took me, but it has passed" (LR 420). Though Boromir does not realise it, it is actually a good thing that happens, as Robert Foster points out in The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth: "[Boromir's] madness [drives] Frodo to decide to carry on the quest alone. This [is] a good thing, since later that day Amon Hen [is] raided by orcs" (51). Of course, Boromir is not aware of this, but the fact that he repents, gives some credit to him.
In Tolkien's World, Randel Helms also stresses the fortunate turn the events take by Boromir's actions, but suggests that it is due to the evil will of Boromir (100). On that point, I have a different opinion. As pointed out earlier, Boromir never has any evil intentions, just selfish ones. In the raid by the orcs, he definitely atones for his mistake. In the act of defending the two hobbits Merry and Pippin, he sacrifices himself for their sake, and dies, which is probably the kind of death he has wished for all along. A heroic death, and later on, a funeral to be remembered for all times.
Boromir is never evil in thought. He is proud and only tries to do what is best for his country, Gondor. This pride is seen as a negative thing by some critics. In Master of Middle-Earth, Paul H. Kocher suggests that the contempt that Boromir shows for halflings, elves and wizards is a proclamation of Man's superiority over other beings (128-129). What Kocher does not consider is that halflings, elves and wizards are unreal beings to the people of Gondor. To them, they are just characters out of old fairy tales. When suddenly confronted with these fantasy figures, Boromir reacts with a form of denial. He treats them in a superior way because of ignorance. They are a threat to his perception of the world, and to his personal beliefs. Boromir is brought up to believe that Man, and particularly the men of Gondor, are the guardians of the Faith, i.e. the faith in Goodness. Halflings, elves and wizards are only fragments of the past - Legends of the Old Ages.
So how are we to judge the actions of Tom Bombadil and Boromir? Tom, who refuses to involve himself in the great matters of the world, can go on living his happy life with Goldberry. He can go on singing his merry songs, wearing his yellow boots, and continue to talk to trees and animals, as he always does, all this thanks to other people's actions and sufferings. He does not lift many fingers himself, but still he can go on living, enjoying the fruits of liberty. He is considered Good, up there with elves and hobbits.
Boromir on the other hand, is seen as a traitor. He tries to take the Ring for his own purposes. He is sent out to protect the Ringbearer with his life. Instead, he gives in to temptations and fails. He is of a bad nature. But who is the crook? The one who makes an effort with the intention to do good, and in doing so, fails? Or the one who will not bother, and lets other people do the work just so he can go on enjoying life?
Of course Tom Bombadil is of a good nature, and Boromir is too proud in his way of acting, but when it comes to judging them by their actions, one should consider the fact that Boromir tries to do good. Tom Bombadil is what he is. It would be wrong to force him into acting against his own beliefs. He plays his little part in the big stage act. He assists Frodo and his party, and gives them shelter for a brief while. Maybe this is what he is supposed to do. The outcome might not have been so successful if people with power had tried to carry out the task. As Elrond points out: "such is often the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere" (LR 287).
Boromir is also what he is. He does what he thinks is right with the best intentions. We can not blame people for failing. We can blame them for not trying, and in doing so we clearly mark that we think it is wrong not to take a stand. But if people who really do take a stand not are capable to go all the way, we have no right to call them traitors.