The Companions of the Ring

Bonding and Integrity as Leitmotifs in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

The Companions of the Ring

Dark forces led by the sinister ruler Sauron are about to dominate all of Middle-earth. In this situation, a group of representatives of various peoples come together to oppose these efforts. This is what the trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien is about.

The title of the first book, Fellowship of the Ring, already shows how important the theme of “solidarity” was for the author. The Fellowship of the Ring is one of the essential elements that will determine the success or failure of the mission to overthrow Sauron and destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

The story begins in the Shire. Frodo Baggins is given a ring by his uncle Bilbo, who thus makes him the main character in an important mission. Frodo is at first unaware of the difficulty of the task and feels hardly equal to the dangers of the journey ahead. Like all Shire-folk, he enjoys a cosy and comfortable life with good food, and then sits on the veranda smoking a pipe. A conversation with friends should also not be missing. He is assisted by his friends Sam, Pippin and Merry. Sam is the most loyal of the companions, always protecting Frodo in danger and never losing heart. Sam symbolises bravery, confidence and optimism. Merry and Pippin bring an entertaining, refreshing element to the otherwise rather threatening atmosphere of the narrative. They are usually in  good spirits and in a joking mood. Merry symbolises cheerfulness and joy. Inner joy is an important aspect to get through dark hours without becoming completely despondent. Pippin symbolises playful curiosity. Discovering and trying out new things are among his characteristic qualities. At the same time, Pippin is prone to recklessness and imprudence, which will lead to perilous situations in the course of the story.

Another member of the Fellowship of the Ring is the wizard Gandalf. He is the wise, fatherly teacher and advisor whose helpful hints are quite instrumental in the success of the venture.  This character is comparable to Merlin in Arthurian legend, or Master Yoda in Star Wars.

Frodo at first rejects the task Gandalf sets him and wants to hand the Ring over to Gandalf. He does not feel equal to the importance and scope of the mission. Here we encounter a motif that occurs in many classical heroic sagas. The protagonist, who at first seems weak and ignorant, sees himself as unworthy to fulfil the mission. This is reminiscent of the Arthurian saga, in which the still inexperienced Arthur initially refuses to draw the sword Excalibur from the stone.

Frodo also does not understand why he, of all people, is chosen to fulfil the mission. He dimly senses the dangers ahead and instinctively recoils from them. Parzival in the Grail myth has a similar experience. On his first visit to the Grail castle, he does not understand the plight of King Anfortas and does not ask the crucial question.

The heroes in the myth must first recognise their true destiny. Finding and accepting their destiny is the first sacrifice along the way. In many heroic myths we encounter the sacrificial motif. Only on the basis of sacrifice can a positive transformation take place. Gandalf tells Frodo that only he can complete the task. This suggests that the still inexperienced hero is assisted by helping forces from the outset, allowing him to find his true destiny. Therein lies the key to the protagonist’s integrity. Frodo now follows the spiritual impulse in his heart and develops the necessary clarity of purpose to be able to fulfil his task. The task is not abstract, but very real and tangible. Therefore, the actions must also be concrete and purposeful. The mental plan must be in harmony with the spiritual mission. Higher world powers are waiting for mental concepts to be created on the lower level that are in harmony with the higher cosmic goals. The protagonist then feels an unexpected tailwind.

 

There is no turning back

It is not possible to reproduce here the many adventures that the friends experience together.

One can say that they cross boundary marks after which there is no turning back. An example of this is the scene in which they cross the river Brandywine on a raft, pursued by the Ringwraiths. A river crossing occurs in many myths. The heroes then enter new land where unknown dangers lurk.

Here it also becomes apparent that evil drives them forward and brings them closer together as a community.

Only if they stick together with one accord can they fulfil the mission. The seemingly overpowering dark forces, symbolised in the work by Sauron and his helpers, thus lead to good. In the course of the story, the four unassuming hobbits who love good food and comfort become courageous heroes on whom the power of evil breaks. Sometimes people grow under extreme pressure to meet the demands – but sometimes they regress to escape them.

 

Sam and Frodo cross more boundaries as they pass through the Dead Marshes and enter the land of Mordor. The way becomes increasingly impassable, and deadly dangers lurk everywhere.

Plagued by hunger and thirst, they cross labyrinthine caves and desolate plains. In the process, Frodo is captured by the orcs. In the most difficult and final phase before the task is completed, it is a matter of standing firm and enduring the evils. They have ventured too far into enemy territory to turn back now. Here, the heroes in the myth experience the necessary inner purification and trials before the final showdown. The catharsis brings about the departure from the familiar and leaves room for the new, which now has the opportunity to show itself.

At the last moment – the situation seems completely hopeless – unexpected help arrives, as when they cross the plane of Gorgoroth or leave Mount Doom (after their task has been fulfilled) and eagles lift them into the air.

 

Friendship and integrity

In a scene at the beginning of the journey, Gandalf says to Elrond, the king of the Elves, in Rivendell:

“It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go. But they would still wish to go, or wish that they dared, and be shamed and unhappy. I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom.” 1)

Indispensable elements of a functioning covenant community are friendship and integrity. In the Fellowship of the Ring they are demonstrated by all members cooperating in the mission to destroy the ring. The individual subordinates himself to the higher mission. Gandalf values  cohesion of the companions even higher than wisdom when it comes to reaching their goal.

Tolkien also shows this high value by depicting the consequences of losing integrity. Boromir, one of the companions, betrays the mission and wants to take the Ring from Frodo by force. The temptation of the Ring is too strong for him. At that moment, the companions are ambushed by their pursuers, the orcs, and Boromir is the only one of the Fellowship to die.

 

The tension between isolation and integration into a communal task is a dominant motif in the trilogy. Isolation and separation are symbolized by Sauron and the power of the Ring. Integrity, spiritual cohesion is embodied by the community of the Ring.

The ring symbolises seduction through the wayward thought: “I can do what I want in secret”. This impulse suggests infinite possibilities and leads from the experience of unity ever further into conflict and separation from the original creative source. Sauron has become the ruler in his own enclave. The prison he erects isolates on the one hand, but on the other creates protective living spaces for everything that resonates with this sphere. The separation from the all-encompassing gives rise to an abysmal realm.

 

Now the question arises as to what this can convey to someone who is striving for true integrity with the All-embracing and looking for some way to overcome limitations.
We can see that we too live in a field of tension, as Tolkien describes it.

 

Inevitably, the question arises:

Can’t I just ignore this elementary situation?
What if I look away and say: none of this concerns me?

On the one hand, there are inner and outer driving forces that promote separation and isolation in me. On the other hand, there is the desire for integration with the great cosmic whole, for overcoming elemental separation. The philosopher and researcher Jean Gebser called this phase in the development of humanity’s consciousness the “integral phase”. In this stage of development, the “higher, faster, further” is overcome and man recognises the world as a wholeness and experiences that the multiplicity of forms reveals itself as a unity. Gebser writes on this:

 

“The new force breaking into man is not power; it does not make him more powerful; but it aims to make him true; it intensifies his becoming conscious, lifts him out of the bondage of matter and psyche, transforms him so that the spiritual becomes transparent to him. Where this increase in power turns into mightiness instead of becoming conscious as a new ‘task’, it destroys the human being”. (2)

The dark forces get in the way of our further development as temptations – as a desire for power (symbolised by the Ring) or for personal recognition or for possessions.

Rudolf Steiner said that we can walk the path of the middle and thereby redeem the hindering forces. He teaches us that it is precisely the working away at the obstructions that enables the actual higher development. It creates the conditions for ever new “creations out of nothing”. This is how the unprecedented comes into existence, the truly new.

———

At the end of the adventure journey, the companions succeed in fulfilling the mission and destroying the ring in Mount Doom. In the second part of the film version of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sam says a few words to Frodo that foreshadow the positive outcome of the story and open up an optimistic vision of the future:

“It’s like the great stories, Mr Frodo, the ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were, …. But in the end it too passes, this shadow. Even the darkness must give way. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine all the brighter.”

 


Photo: rock-Frank Winkler auf Pixabay HD

Sources:

1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Volume 1: The Fellowship of the Ring,
Unwin Paperbacks, London 1966, p. 293

2 Jean Gebser, Ever-Present Origin, Part 1: Foundations of the Aperspectival World, Collected Works, Schaffhausen 1986, p. 455.

 

 

 

 

 

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Date: December 26, 2022
Author: René Lukas (Germany)
Photo: Rock by Frank-Winkler on Pixabay CCO

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