Sunday, September 22, 2013

Top Ten Tolkien Characters

Before I start, I just want to specify that these choices are my very subjective choices, and I'm well aware they might be on a different planet than what the general views are, and I might even have misunderstood completely what I've read and gotten things wrong. But they represent my choices nonetheless. And also, these might not be my favorite characters in six months... but at this given point in time, they are my favorites.
For me, the Tolkien universe embodies the ultimate flight from the grey everyday existence that sometimes is my life, the absolute opposite to my real. So, writing this is quite hard, as it means incredibly much to me, but here goes.
And it probably would be considered good form to give you a big spoiler alert. If you haven't read Silmarillion, The Hobbit or Lord Of The Rings, and plan to, this might not be the entry to read ;-)

And before I start, I probably should mention Frodo, and of course I like him, both him and Bilbo. They are two tormented souls, troubled by the malice of the ring. But to me this entry is about more than Lord of the Rings. This is about all the wonderful stories, and then I have to make a selection, and in the top ten, they don't make the cut.

10. Manwë
Manwë is one of the Ainur, one of the holy ones. He is one of the eternal created by Eru, or Iluvatar, at the very beginning, before there was a middle earth. Their creator gave them some chords, and then they started to sing. As they sang, Manwë's brother, Melkor, wanted to create harmonies of his own, and forced those closest to him to sing in his chosen key, so to speak. But just as the entire choir was singing in disharmony, Eru gave them new chords to fill with soul and thought. Needless to say, Melkor is the personification of evil, or was it individuality (it starts off as individuality, but ends up as malice and evil and the wish to destroy and corrupt).
Melkor's brother, Manwë, is the god of the air, and is in my interpretation the God all living creatures turn to in the name of good. You might not have heard about him before, but if you have seen the films, you will have encountered his wonderful eagles. They will follow and protect so many of the main characters to come. They were central in Gondolin, the hidden land, and they are seriously connected to Gandalf both in The Hobbit and in the final battle of the ring of power.
Manwë to me is more of an idea than a character. He is Eru's power on earth, and functions as the God in Middle Earth. He lives on the highest place in Valionr with his spouse Varda. She is the keeper of the stars.

9. Thorin Oakenshield
Thorin Oakenshield is one of the most bad ass characters in the world. He is stubborn like a true dwarf, he is full of knowledge, he is full of hatred and devouring emotions, but he is also able to repent and find a certain absolution, with the help of a hobbit (obviously). And though I'm mostly talking about the books in this entry, to overlook the epic movies of Peter Jackson would be close to idiocy, so the hotness of Richard Armitage helps a lot when I pick my ten favorite characters from Middle Earth. Now all that remains is to send my positive vibes to New Zealand, and lovingly force Peter Jackson to give Silmarillion a go as well :-) (though I feel I might not get that particular wish granted as it is one big task to take on) But getting slightly off track here. I wanted to add a little detail about the dwarves. In the prophecy Eru made, he saw the elves as the firstborn. And in a utopia version of all things, people do as they are told, and don't go on mucking things up by thinking on their own. But Aulë does just that, mucking things up. He's slightly inferior to Manwë and his ocean lord brother, Ulmo, being caught up in creating things. He is described in the book as a little bit simple, if that's fair.  He is a smith, and at one point he got tired of waiting for the firstborns, and fashioned them from his own mind, out of stone. This resulted in the dwarves, and they were awakened before the children of the stars, and for a brief second Eru wanted Aulë to destroy them as a punishment for the disobedient behaviour, but he took pity on them and sent them back to sleep. But the fact that Aulë created the dwarves on his own, meant that they didn't have the full understanding of the mechanics of the world, they would forever more have only Aulë's perspective, and this serves as a fair explanation to why they are as stubborn as they are.
So why is it that I like Thorin so much? He is a stubborn and proud being. He forces men and elves to go to war over something as ordinary as gold. He refuses to see even Gandalf's point. But then in the end, he listens to a small hobbit, and fights for the freedom of the good side in the last battle. He redeems himself completely, and dies a hero. He represents everything I look for in a good literary character. He is troubled because of his history, he is kind, but he hides his kind side to a more harsh and determined disposition. He is a leader, but it's sometimes difficult to follow his lead, as he doesn't always know where he's going. He gets lost in his own selfishness, but his good heart and his deeply hidden reason wins in the end... To write a character one would love, yet want to shake a bit along the way, and cry for hours when dies, now that takes talent.

8. Lúthien
The elven princess who fell in love with a human. The story of Beren and Lúthien is probably my favorite story from Silmarillion. It describes true love and what you would do if true love is in your heart. Also, and this is so heartbrakingly beautiful that it brings a tear to my eye, on Tolkien's tomb stone he and his wife are the real life Beren and Lùthien.
What always fascinated me about Lúthien was her bravery. She is not afraid to walk into hell to save her loved one. She does so against advice from her family, and she does so almost all alone. A big dog called Huan helps her out. Beren, you see, has been sent by Thingol, Lúthien's kingly father, to fetch one of the stolen Silmarils from Morgoth's crown. And because he loves Lúthien so endlessly, he does what he is told, and is of course captured. But the thing is, the silmarils have been cursed, and as soon as someone desires them, they are in for trouble.
But Lúthien is one of the most powerful of the Noldo there are. Her voice is magic, and with her magical singing voice she fights none other than Sauron, and she defeats him. But they still have to get the Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, and they manage this at great cost. And throughout the whole ordeal what saves them, Beren and Lúthien, is their pure and deep love.
I remember reading this story for the first time, and I just completely cried my eyes out. Not because I was sad, there was another element present. It is a sad story, but it has a cathartic feel to it, and that's why I didn't feel sad first and foremost, but overwhelmed. And this doesn't change just because I have read it many times since. The element of something larger than life is always present in the most precious of love stories ever written. It even challenges Romeo and Juliet.

7. Arwen
From the first time I read Lord Of The Rings I loved Arwen. She holds some of the same eternal and elusive features as Lúthien, and the story of the elven princess falling in love with a mortal man is repeated with Arwen when she falls in love with Aragorn. These two love stories are love stories as they should always be, where the two lovers are so deeply in love with the other person that the love is of an eternal and life changing character. And though the story of Arwen and Aragorn is a bit shorter in the book than in the films, it is all there in the appendix. We can read how Arwen chooses a mortal life, and how she goes into the empty forrest of Lothlorien when Aragorn dies, and lies down by the trees of her grandmother, Galadriel, to sleep because all the other elves have left for Valinor. She chooses an eternity in solitude for a few mortal years with Aragorn.
Arwen as a character is interesting. The brilliant story from the book, how she travels from Rivendell with a banner showing Aragorn he should be king is a fantastic twist to the story, and it should have been a part of the films. Because she never falls ill and almost dies as long as the ring endures, not in the books anyway. She is Elrond's daughter, she is Eärendil's grand daughter, she is incredibly powerful, she is Arwen Undomiel, the evning star.

6. Pippin
Peregrin Took is one of the characters in The Lord Of The Rings that remain true and pure throughout the story. He is the little rascal that doesn't always get things right. But his heart is always in the right place. Gandalf goes through both the book and the films calling him "A Fool Of A Took", but I have a strong feeling Gandalf really likes the little troublemaker, and that every time he tells him off, it is done from a fatherly loving point of view. I think Gandalf might have an even softer spot for Pippin than for any of the other hobbits, but being old and sometimes grumpy, it's expressed through a slight annoyance.
So, Pippin, he ends up one of the tallest hobbits in the Shire from drinking the water in Fangorn Forrest, and the taller you are as a hobbit, the higher the social status. Having faced mortal peril and basically saved Middle Earth as well is probably helping the social status thing. Pippin comes home to The Shire a changed hobbit, and not only physically. He has seen horrors no one has seen, and he stood his ground. He almost lost his best friend at the slopes of Pelennor, but the hobbits all live to fight another day. And though everything changes for them when they return to The Shire, having to chase Saruman and Grima Wormtongue out of Bag End and The Shire (yes, to those of you who didn't read the book, Saruman doesn't die like he does in the film...he's an Istari wizard, he's a demigod...), he keeps his pure and childlike mind to the very end.

5. Aragorn
The true heir to the throne of Arnor and Gondor. The white tree of the Dúnedain will only come alive when a true Numenorian sits on the throne.
The ring Aragorn is wearing on his finger used to belong to Beren, who got it from the house of Finarfin, just a little fun fact.
Aragorn was raised in Rivendell by the half elf Elrond, son of Eärendil the mariner...and in Rivendell he meets the love of his life, the elven princess, Arwen Undomiel, the evening star. As her grandfather is the elven kind's most beloved star, she is, by her birth alone, a beacon of light in Aragorn's life. But Elrond will not allow a marriage between the two until Aragorn dares to ascend the throne. He does so after having fought in the second war of the ring.
Aragorn is the ultimate hero. Noble, troubled, brave, and most of all, incredibly loyal. One might think that all these trades makes a hero one dimensional, but it doesn't. He's one of the most interesting characters in the history of literature. He's brought up in the world of elves, he fears the blood of his forefathers, he is known as a ranger, Strider, he knows the way of nature and herbs, he's bi-lingual, and speak the language of the elves, he's the man that the fellowship trusts when Gandalf isn't there...but he's also the one they trust when Gandalf is there. He has been hiding for Sauron for a long time, but after the battle at Helms Deep, he makes his presence known to the enemy, and as the Numenorians were the ones who fought Sauron in the first war of the ring, Sauron actually fears Aragorn. And he doesn't faint from the strain of making his presence known, as he does in the film, he stands tall, and grows stronger and stronger as the story goes towards its last fight by the black gate.

4. Gandalf
Gandalf is one of the Istari. A demigod with powers far greater than presented in the films. He is a maian spirit, and has been on Middle Earth since the very beginning. His names are many. His first name was Olórin, and he lived in the gardens of Lórien, the master of dreams, in the Undying Lands. After a while he was chosen to be one of the five Istari wizards. As an Istari he is forbidden to make it known he is a maiar spirit. The Istari were placed on Middle-Eart as a protection to the great evil growing, in the time when Morgoth and Sauron joined forces. Gandalf is second in command in the Istari order. One white, Saruman, one grey, Gandalf, one brown, Radagast and two blue, Alatar and Pallando. On Middle Earth, he is known as Gandalf the Grey, Mithrandir to the elves, Tharkûn to the dwarves, Incánus to the Haradrim, The Grey Pilgrim, and in the end, Gandalf The White.
He is the protector of one of the elven rings, Narya, the ring of fire. The three elven rings are protected by Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond, and that is probably why the three of them manage to withstand the power of Sauron's ring.
Gandalf is a complex character, and that is why I love him. He is one of the eternals, and he remains true to himself until he once again is allowed back to The Undying Lands, at the end of the second war of the ring.
Gandalf has always fascinated me. He is witty, he is pragmatic and practical. He has a lot of love for the little people, and by that I don't mean the hobbits, but the seemingly insignificant participants of any story. He would in a modern story be the one who saw the silent child in the schoolyard, he would be the one who picked up on injustice and cruelty, and he would not chicken out if he got a chance to right wrongs.

3. Fëanor
Fëanor is the fiery elven smith that took the living light from the trees of Valinor and forged them into three out of this world gems, called the Silmarils. Their light is of such power that they have to be locked inside a cave. But of course Morgoth desires the stones, as all creatures on Middle Earth and in Valinor.
Fëanor had a fire within him that could not be harnessed, and he might have come across as proud and angry, dangerous even, but his intentions were good and he put these into the creation of the stones.
But he was a craftsman of high power. The first thing he made were the Elven-gems, crystals filled with starlight. He also made the Palantíri, the seeing stones. But it was the forging of the Silmarils that changed the whole history of both Eldamar (Valinor) and Middle Earth. The desire to own them became so overwhelming to everyone, Fëanor included, that they became The Ring Of Power times a million.
Morgoth (previously named Melkor, but the Silmarils burned his face and he lost his beauty, and was given a new name) managed to steal the Silmarils, and Fëanor as a retaliation led the elves loyal to him across Helcraxe to Middle Earth in pursuit of Morgoth and his army of orcs. But Fëanor was in the end slain by the Balrog called Gothmog.
Later, the war of the Silmarils would rage for centuries. It ended only when all the gems were lost. Only one remained, and it was placed on the forehead of Eärendil, the mariner, who sails the evening sky as the brightest star.

2. Sam
How can one go in detail about one of the most heroic characters in the history of literature? Samwise Gamgee, the gardener. Frodo would not have survived for long had it not been for Sam.
Sam is briefly a ring bearer, and for this he is allowed to enter Valinor in the end, where he reunites with his master, his companion, his friend.
In the films I feel that the relationship between the two is a bit characteristic, and it might be ridiculed. But in my mind, both book and film are showing two best friends, and their love is that of brothers. Sam starts out as the little brother, but he makes a promise to Gildor, the elf (not Gandalf as in the film), to look after Frodo, and he stays true to his promise to the bitter end. He is the personification of loyalty, and also of unconditional love. The bond between Frodo and Sam can resemble that of soldiers in war. Some might say they have a gay relationship, but I think it's more of a brotherly relationship. Frodo is the slight senior character, but through the journey he realises that he would have perished without Sam. The thing is that the Ring is weighing him down, altering his personality, so he isn't able to show Sam just how much he appreciate his help. but he leaves Bag End to Sam.
When the eagles save them out of Mordor, he remains, true and pure. One might argue he's a bit two dimensional, but I think the story would have been far darker and more hopeless without his part. And I cannot remember ever being more moved in my whole cinematic life than when Sam picks Frodo up and carries him the last bit. That shines for me, with the help of the beautiful music, the lighting, the angling, everything, as the point of the whole trilogy.

1. Eärendil
The mariner.... Middle Earth's most beloved star...
It's hard to decide why I love Eärendil so much, he is a bit of a troublemaker, but he is a very lovely and determined troublemaker. And his heart holds so much love for his family and his kin, making him one of the most loyal characters from the stories.
Half man, half elf, and the biggest dragon slayer Middle Earth ever saw. Eärendil is the father of Elrond, and Elrond's twin brother Elros. By Manwë the family, Eärendil, Elwing, Elrond and Elros were allowed to choose their own fate. Elros chose that of a mortal, but with the life span of five centuries. Elrond, as we know, chose to be an elf. Eärendil and Elwing chose to be judged as elves, as they had to be punished for entering the undying lands uninvited. And when ever they enter Aman, The Undying Lands, Valinor, and walk up to Taniquetil where Manwë sits, I get chills all over. And managing the task of entering the holy land with no invitation is quite the accomplishment.  It might sound like a punishment, but for Eärendil, sailing his ship, the Vigilot, across the evening sky forever, becoming the flame of the west, the Evening Star... "I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star".

My referencing literature for this entry has been:

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings
Jackson, The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, The Return Of The King, The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey)
David Day,  Tolkien, The Illustrated Encyclopedia


  1. "But Fëanor was in the end slain by the Balrog called Gothmog, a balrog we later meet on the bridge of Kazahd-Dûm, another fun fact."

    I'm pretty sure that the balrog in Moria was not Gothmog, as Gothmog was killed by Echthelion in the destruction of Gondolin.

    Pretty good top ten, but then I would have liked to see Turin in there somewhere, especially since he will be the one to finally end Morgoth.

    1. Thanks, been a while since I read the Silmarillion, and the Gondolin story. Sorry about that mistake. I'll try to keep my facts straight.
      Turin is a badass, no doubt, and maybe in a few months, if you ask me to write another list, it has changed :) Have a good weekend.

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