I think it has been sufficiently established that I love The Lord of the Rings. I have read it over and over, and have picked up a thing or two.
A common complaint is how long it is.
The length has long since ceased to bother me; it means the pleasure that is this book gets to go on longer, does it not?
But it’s essentially true. It is a long book.
But because the book is so big, Tolkien has the time to have a much larger cast of characters and broader landscape than is possible in the typical novel.
This causes for many different dynamics. Different characters get to interact. Groups split up. You see each character in a variety of settings.
Here are a couple of my favorite “mini-stories” within the larger story of The Lord of the Rings.
1. Eowyn and Aragorn
“As she stood before Aragorn she paused suddenly and looked upon him, and her eyes were shining. And he looked down upon her fair face and smiled; but as he took the cup, his hand met hers, and he knew that she trembled at the touch.”
“Then she fell on her knees, saying: ‘I beg thee!’
‘Nay, lady,’ he said, and taking her by the hand he raised her. The he kissed her hand, and sprang into the saddle, and rode away, and did not look back; and only those who knew him well and were near to him saw the pain that he bore.”
It amuses me that Tolkien, the brilliant scholar, was not above a little romance.
I think he must have been a bit of a sap for it, actually, as there are at least three separate romances in The Lord of the Rings alone.
Eowyn and Aragorn form two members of an ever-popular Love Triangle.
Normally these annoy me, if only because they are so disgustingly prevalent.
But I don’t mind this one. It’s too real for that. Eowyn is too real for that.
In Aragorn’s defense, he never encourages her. He is only ever polite and kind.
And yet, any girl who reads this knows what Eowyn feels like.
I mean, who wouldn’t be in love with Aragorn?
2. Eowyn, The Feminist
“Shall I always be chosen? Shall I always be left behind when the Riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?…
…Too often have I heard of duty. But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?…
…All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.”
Eowyn is like the world’s first feminist.
And while Aragorn gently tries to encourage her in his sweet, sensible way, Eowyn’s dissatisfaction with her life is so compelling.
No wonder she is a favorite character.
3. Sam: From Servant to Friend
Sam starts out as a servant.
About thirty years younger than Frodo, it doesn’t seem as though Frodo pays much attention to his maintenance man and gardener. His real friends are Merry and Pippin and Fatty.
Frodo is fond of Sam. The way you would be fond of a little kid you saw in passing a couple of times a week. Honestly, it seems like Sam may have been closer to Bilbo than to Frodo.
But as the story progresses, and circumstances dictate more interaction between Frodo and Sam, the dynamic begins to shift.
Frodo is pleasantly surprised to find how strongly his servant cares for him and how many noble qualities he possesses. Loyalty. Courage. Goodness.
By the end of the story, Sam and Frodo are no longer employer and employee.
They are friends.
4. Gollum Vs. Sméagol
Perhaps the most thought-provoking of all the themes explored in The Lord of the Rings, the struggle in Smeagol between good and evil is reminiscent almost of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde.
Obviously, the average person does not appear to have two people living in their body.
But, for lack of a better phrase, the struggle is real.
It might not be so obvious, but good and evil are battling for control in each of us.
Of course, Smeagol’s story does not have a happy ending. As much as Frodo – and with him the audience – would have liked to believe that Gollum was capable of change, that there was still some remnant of the old goodness in him, he succumbed to the darkness in the end.
5. Eowyn and Faramir
Eowyn and Faramir have the sweetest romance.
By far my favorite couple. What could be better than stoic, chivalrous Faramir falling for stubborn, passionate Eowyn?
“‘Then, Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, so beautiful, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still. For you and I have both passed under the wings of the Shadow, and the same hand drew us back…’
And so they stood on the walls of the City of Gondor, and a great wind rose and blew, and their hair, raven and golden, streamed out mingling in the air…
And would you have you proud folk say to you: ‘There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?’
‘I would,’ said Faramir. And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.”
6. Aragorn and Arwen
“And then all left him save Arwen, and she stood alone by his bed. And for all her wisdom and lineage she could not forbear to plead with him to stay yet for a while. She was not yet weary of her days, and thus she tasted the bitterness of the mortality that she had taken upon her.
And Aragorn said,’I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.’
‘Nay, dear lord,’ she said, ‘that choice is long over. There is now no ship that would bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nill: the loss and the silence.’
‘Estel, Estel!’ she cried, and with that even as he took her hand and kissed it, he fell into sleep… Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Then she said farewell to Eldarion, and to her daughters, and to all whom she had loved; and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came.”
Sadly, Arwen is largely left out of The Lord of the Rings. Unlike Eowyn, Arwen seems uninterested in getting involved, apparently content to leave the fighting to the men.
But her and Aragorn’s love story can be found in the Appendices, and the sad beauty of their story is deserving of a book of its own.
7. Aragorn – King in Exile
Like his love story, Aragorn’s early life doesn’t enter much into the main story.
But if you ever have the chance to read the Appendices, Aragorn’s is a beautiful story of sacrifice and love.
His father died when he was just a child and so his mother, Gilraen, took him to live in Rivendell, where Elrond became like a father to him.
It reminds me of a genderswapped Sleeping Beauty…
As heir to the throne, Gilraen was afraid for her son. He was never told who he was or even his real name until he was a young man.
Aragorn was known by the name Estel, which means “hope.”
One of my favorite parts of this story is what Gilraen tells Aragorn shortly before she dies.
“I gave hope to the world. I have kept none for myself.”
Have you read The Lord of the Rings? Who is your favorite character? Which couple is your favorite? Are there any other substories in The Lord of the Rings that I missed?Which one is your favorite?