Best of The Lord of the Rings: Character Arc

Never have I been so excited about a new series on the blog, or more nervous. My first association with The Lord of the Rings series happened when I was 10 years old. I watched the entire movie trilogy with my family and I was instantly impressed. I finished reading the series in 8th grade and I vividly remember that it took me 3 weeks to complete it. I had taken a few days of sick leave and I had the book with me throughout. Ever since, I have never truly let go of it. I make it a point to watch the trilogy and read the books every year at least. If this hasn’t already told you how crazy I am about this series, perhaps the blog posts that I have in store for September will.

I don’t rightly remember when exactly I came up with this idea though. I had always planned to talk about The Lord of the Rings on my blog, but somehow I shied away from it. I always looked at it with pure awe, for I am convinced that I cannot conceive a world so rich even though I pour a lifetime of work into it. There are layers of complexity and depth that I have only grasped after repeated reading. I have tried to assemble all my jumbled thoughts and intense feelings associated with this series and failed many times. But several things forced me to finally translate them into words. Firstly, it was a question I found on Quora asking how the works of George R. R. Martin are better than that of J. R. R. Tolkien. I was a bit puzzled as to why the two were being compared, but since I have not read A Song of Ice and Fire yet, curiosity compelled me to read some of the answers. Needless to say, they left me outraged. As a die-hard fan, I was all set to write a thesis-length rebuttal to some of the nonsensical claims, but I checked myself in time, for no good would come of arguing with strangers in some corner of the Internet (also, I was sure nobody would have the patience to read my thesis-length arguments). I decided that I would address them elsewhere, when I could be more objective. Secondly, the Tolkien Reading Event hosted by Krysta and Briana over at Pages Unbound Reviews (they have a fantastic book blog, BTW) gave me the inspiration to perhaps host something like that on my own someday. Third and lastly, it was the Character Evolution Files over at Sara Letourneau’s blog that got me into my fangirling mode again. Sara illustrated the positive arc with the example of Aragorn, which compelled me to dissect the various characters of the trilogy for myself, which culminates in this endeavour of mine.

A word of caution before we proceed, though. I must admit that I am no expert on this topic or a scholar. I am just an ordinary reader trying to explore the depths of my eternal favourite series. Sometimes, I may read too much into a thing, or come to the wrong conclusions. If you feel that I have, point it out in a comment and forgive me. Also, there are certain parts that I may have overlooked in my study. You can always bring that to my notice, again through the comments section. Also note that since this is a book discussion, it will invariably contain spoilers, so choose to read on at your own risk. With that out of the way, let’s jump in!


Best Character Arc: Boromir

There are many interesting characters throughout the trilogy, but since I had to pick one (and vent out my frustration on those Quora answers), I chose Boromir. J. R. R. Tolkien makes several references to the corrupting influence of the One Ring. It is perhaps best illustrated through the fall of Boromir. Although he is mostly remembered for trying to take the Ring from Frodo, thus breaking the Fellowship, and his character lasts for the length of a single book in a six-volume series, it is worthwhile studying his arc nonetheless. It is often said that The Lord of the Rings has clearly marked good and evil characters, with which I vehemently disagree. A notable example, other than Boromir, would be Sméagol, whose character is much more complex than that of my choice here, but more on that in subsequent posts. For now, let us get to know our ill-fated man a bit more.

Image result for boromir

The Past

We first encounter Boromir in The Council of Elrond, Book II, but pieces of his story are littered throughout the series. We learn of his youth and his disposition through the words of his brother, Faramir, that of Denethor, the father who loved his eldest son to a fault, and a little also from others such as Éomer and Gandalf. Information can also be gathered from the Appendices.

Boromir, second of that name, was born in the year 2978 of the Third Age to Denethor II and Finduilas of Dol Amroth. His brother, Faramir, was born five years later. It is said that there was great love between the two brothers and there was never any sign of jealousy or rivalry between them. To the young Faramir, there was no equal to his brother in Gondor and Denethor loved his eldest son the most, even though they possessed very different natures. Boromir soon grew to be a man of great strength and courage. He was promoted to the post of the Captain of the White Tower and it is mentioned in the literature that he fought in the many battles of Gondor against the Enemy. This won him renown not only in his country, but even Éomer speaks of his valour highly.

Boromir deeply loved Gondor and its people. His experience with war made him yearn for a way to defeat Sauron, although it is seen that both his pride (and that of Denethor, along with his false beliefs) prevented Gondor from asking for aid. However, he also longs for personal glory along with victory in the war. Faramir notes [The Window on the West, Book IV] that, ‘And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king.  “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?” he asked. “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty,” my father answered. “In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”‘ In appearance, he is described as tall, fair, dark-haired, and grey-eyed.

The Council of Elrond

Boromir sought the land of Imladris, home of Elrond Half-Elven, because of a dream that came to him once and several times to his brother. In fact, he volunteers for the mission as he believes that he is the hardier of the two, although his father gives him leave grudgingly. His journey took a hundred and ten days and he travelled through “roads forgotten” to reach Rivendell, though, as he said, “few knew where it lay”. Thus, he reaches in time to be present for the all-important Council.

Once there, he learns that Isildur’s Bane is none other than the One Ring brought forth by Frodo, the Halfling, as mentioned in the verse from his dream. From there, perhaps, the obsession starts. When he asks why the Ring should not be put to use, he is answered by Elrond chiefly and Gandalf. His reaction is worthy of note: Boromir looked at them doubtfully, but he bowed his head. ‘So be it,’ he said.

Part of the Fellowship

From that slight slip-up though, Boromir again goes back to his old self. He proves to be a valuable member of the Fellowship, especially in the ordeal at Caradhras. However, as he is accustomed to lead, he often provides an alternate opinion in their discussions. He openly rejects the path of Moria, and after the fall of Gandalf, he continuously opposes the choices of Aragorn.

We begin to see a slight change in his behaviour from the moment he meets Galadriel in Lothlórien. He seems more and more interested in Frodo, and Tolkien masterfully hints at his growing corruption under the influence of the Ring through the observations of Frodo, Sam and Pippin. It is a steady downfall from then on.

It is portrayed differently, but brilliantly, in the movies, as can be seen in the following video [only till 1:20 is relevant to the discussion].

Things come to a head at Amon Hen, where the Fellowship halts before deciding on their course. The exchange between Frodo and Boromir finally reveals his desire for the Ring.

‘It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!’

Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly. Almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise.

After the rejection of the Ring by Gandalf, Aragorn and Galadriel, it is Boromir who fails the test. He tries to forcefully take the Ring from Frodo, at which point Frodo puts on the Ring and vanishes from sight. Boromir trips and falls; an allegory, no doubt. The reason I loved the character arc of Boromir though, is because of how Tolkien chooses to end his story.

The Redemption

Boromir returns to the rest of the Fellowship subsequently and as they run off in search of Frodo, he is commanded by Aragorn to protect Pippin and Merry. His fate is only revealed in the next book, in the first chapter aptly named The Departure of Boromir.

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas honour his death by laying him in one of the boats and giving him up to the great river Anduin.

But in Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars.


The point I was trying to highlight with Boromir’s example is that Tolkien’s legendarium does have grey and complex characters. The qualities that made him a famous warrior of his time and a fierce patriot were also the ones that led him down the dark path of temptation and power. Even though he descended to the lowest depths, he was able to find himself again and learn the error of his ways. Therefore, his character arc is neither the classic tragedy nor is it a positive one. He does not remain a villain in the story, but is laid to rest as a hero.

I have let my fangirl side go rampant with this post, but I had a really good time writing it. What are your opinions on Boromir? Can you think of other characters that do not rigidly fit into the three types of character arcs within the scope of Tolkien’s works? Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.

 

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21 thoughts on “Best of The Lord of the Rings: Character Arc

  1. Boromir is one of my favorite characters in LotR because of his complexity. Most people I’ve spoken with choose to focus on his attempt to take the Ring and call him a “bad” character, but Boromir isn’t so much a “good” or a “bad” character so much as he is simply a person. He has many noble qualities, but he has also has flaws.

    And, frankly, I think that, even though people seem to hate him (generally speaking), he actually is the character in the Fellowship closest to many of us. Yes, the Hobbits are supposed to be the sort of Everyman, but in a way they are very shielded. If Elrond and Gandalf say to do something, they’re probably going to do it because what do they know of Sauron or politics? But Boromir is the one who asks the seemingly logical questions: Why are we travelling through Middle-earth with this Ring instead of protecting the people of Gondor (whom Sauron is without question going to attack)? If this Ring is so great why are we getting rid of it instead of using it? The movie portrays these remarks as stupid and arrogant–but aren’t they exactly the types of questions people who know about politics would want to consider? (We also have to keep in mind that the old knowledge of the Ring has largely disappeared in Gondor. We the audience know the Ring is Bad News, but Boromir genuinely doesn’t know about all this Ring-overcoming-your-will stuff. Can you blame him for wanting to know why they’re throwing it away?)

    I think it’s also important to note that Boromir wants the Ring to protect his people, not for world domination. Yes, wanting it to do good is how you start out, before you go for world domination, but he’s not there yet. He’s just a really fearful man who wants to do what it takes to save his land. His actions to do that are not laudable, but neither are they something not most people would do, if placed in proximity to the Ring. Because Frodo resists so well, it’s easy to forget the Ring’s power. But Aragorn, Galadriel, and Gandalf literally want nothing to do with the Ring because they know how easily it sways individuals. In a way, Borormir is again only reacting the way most individuals would, if faced with such temptation. It seems almost arrogant to me to say that Boromir is a bad man because he tries to take it. But how do we the readers know what we would do if someone gave us the opportunity to save everyone and everything we loved–and then took it away because they said it was wrong?

    Finally, the most important part of Boromir’s character arc is that he gives his life for others and asks forgiveness. In this moment, he redeems himself. His past actions don’t really matter anymore (though of course they still have consequences). He failed, but he, like everyone else, has the opportunity to pick himself up again and start over.. To ignore this moment is troubling as it suggests that the past is always going to define an individual and that there’s no redemption. But Aragorn is the noble character we’re supposed to look up to–and he forgives Boromir. So why can’t we?

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    • This is probably the longest comment I’ve received so far! Thank you so much for taking your time to discuss the post, Krysta! 🙂
      I think that throughout the first book, Legolas and Gimli have very little to say. Boromir is always the one who is thinking differently, who provides alternatives, who questions each choice. In a way, every group needs one of those to be balanced.
      For my part, even I don’t brand Boromir as good or bad. I totally agree with your point that he’s the person we can identify with more than hobbits. As urban readers, we have this habit of questioning everything before accepting them because of our scientific thought process, and this is what Boromir does for the most part. He is, as you said, looking out for his country. He knows how desparate Gondor’s needs are, which is why he wishes to use the Ring, and that is totally justifiable.
      I wanted to bring out the complexity of a character who occurs even so briefly in the series and that is why I took Boromir’s example. A lot of people seem to believe that the characters in LotR are one-dimensional, so I’m trying to dispel that misconception here. Perhaps at first glance they may seem to fit a category, but Boromir’s story is neither a tragedy or a happy ending, and the realism is what draws me to his character.

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      • Tolkien just calls for long comments!

        Yes, I see the one-dimensional argument a lot and, while I think it is interesting to think about why we never see such a thing as a good orc, to say that the “good guys” are purely good does ignore the struggles they are facing. Boromir and Smeagol are, as you point out, the two more obvious exhibits of complexity, but even in characters like Galadriel and Frodo we see them having to fight off temptation. It isn’t as if they are so pure that they are not affected by or drawn to evil sometimes.

        Galadriel is, I think, a particularly interesting character in terms of reader response because we’re seeing her in LotR at her particular moment of redemption. And we see this moment and we accept her as “good” whereas reader response to Boromir is more complex. Perhaps it’s because Galadriel’s back story as a rebel from the Valar is not included in The Lord of the Rings, so we don’t see her fall. Or maybe we don’t find rebellion as problematic as we find betrayal and theft?

        At any rate, I find it interesting that readers and viewers generally seem to dislike Boromir when his character is simply bringing to the forefront struggles that the other characters are in many cases also facing. It’s true he falls where others stand firm, but in some sense you would think failure would inspire pity rather than scorn.

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      • Your last sentence reminds me a lot of Gandalf for some reason. 🙂 I think more than one reading will make you realize the nature of Boromir and film viewers most definitely will find it hard to forgive him as the entire Fellowship seems against him.
        Oh, interesting point about Galadriel there. Yes, her backstory within the scope of the trilogy is not relevant, so everyone just thinks she’s the nice elf lady who gave the travellers gifts and sent them on their merry way. But yes, there’s more to her than that. The lore of Middle-Earth and the scope of the characters is so vast that there still exists gaps in our knowledge although there is so much published material. It really takes my breath away!
        As to the Orcs being evil throughout, I have a theory, but it’s just an idea and I don’t know if it can explain away all the facts. Still, the characters we follow on this journey mostly come from the “good” side, so the tale of the good orc is actually outside of the narrative scope of the trilogy. We can only analyze the characters whose thoughts and deeds we have access to.

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      • It’s true there could be a good orc we don’t know about, but to me that’s sort of problematic because it’s not a real world, it’s a literary one–so no outside events exist. It’s kind of like J. K. Rowling saying all Slytherins aren’t bad, but then having none of them stand against Voldemort and making their common room password “pure blood.” Well, sure, somewhere there might be a nice, non-racist Slytherin–but Rowling gave us little evidence to the contrary in the first seven books.

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      • Hmm, you make a good point. The theory I had in mind was one of artificial selection. Say there was once a good orc back when they were a new race. But a good orc wouldn’t fit into the plans of his master, and was therefore killed/sent away. This continued to happen till they either learnt to keep their thoughts to themselves entirely or their entire mindset changed. When Merry and Pippin are captured, the Orcs seem to have a disagreement that they settle by killing the dissenters, so I wouldn’t be surprised if only the most evil ones survived.
        There’s also of course the brainwash theory, where the evil creatures are all under the full control of Sauron. Since his only ambition is the dominion over all of Middle-Earth and that is the power of the One Ring, it may be possible that his minions can’t have thoughts other than what their master wants them to. After the Ring is destroyed, Tolkien calls the creatures of Sauron ‘spell-enslaved’, which hints to some sort of mind control.
        What is your opinion?

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      • I always got the impression that, since the orcs are supposed to be “twisted” Elves, the implication was that the orcs are somehow by nature evil and that this part of the story is working through fairy tale logic. Just as there seems to be no good dragon or no Balrog who just wants to invite visitors over to tea. This, however, admittedly feels problematic because it would take away the free will of the orcs. So I guess I’d have to assume that 1) any non-conforming orcs were killed or kept quiet and 2) that the upbringing of the orcs made becoming good nearly impossible –and this seems likely since who wants to join Men or Elves when Men and Elves kill your race on sight? I do like your brainwashing theory, too, though.

        I suspect Tolkien himself may have never fully worked this one out, so it’s interesting to speculate but frustrating that we have so little textual evidence with which to work.

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    • Yes, his journey is definitely heart-breaking, especially when Gondor and all those who stand against the Enemy lose a capable and mighty leader among Men at that hour. But perhaps it was best that way. Imagine how much more complicated the narrative would get if he had survived or if the entire Fellowship had gone on to Mordor.

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      • True, the story would have turned out very different if Boromir had survived. That’s an interesting thought to consider! I don’t think the Fellowship would have succeeded if they’d all gone to Mordor. They had to be split up.

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  2. The Lord of the Rings is hands-down the best ever!

    Boromir is one of my favorite characters because everything he does has a purpose. He’s a strong warrior, but in the end, he is only human. The ring gets the better of him and before he realizes his mistake, it’s too late. However, I think he’s redeemed by his death as he tries to protect the Hobbits. As much as I wish he didn’t die, I think his death had a lot of meaning for everyone. It definitely opened the eyes for the rest of the fellowship. I can only imagine what would have happened if Sam and Frodo stayed with the rest of the group.

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    • I agree. Throughout the book, everything has a purpose. If this sudden turn of events didn’t occur, the quest would definitely fail. Even by his death, he has saved their cause. I think it’s a good example of how Tolkien uses death to further the story. For example, if Gandalf had not fallen at Moria, Aragorn wouldn’t have taken the role of the leader and thus begin to accept the kind of responsibilities he would inherit as King.

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  3. Funny, I’ve finally found the energy today to start working on the next Character Evolution File, and I’m reading this post. 🙂 And thanks for sharing the link to my series!

    This is a great analysis of Boromir’s character and his downward spiral. Like Krysta said, he’s very realistic in his strengths as well as his flaws. He wants to protect his people, but he’s also desperate enough to do whatever it takes to save them – even taking the One Ring for himself. But he redeems himself in the end by trying to protect Merry and Pippin at Amon Hen (though he fails), and then confessing his mistake to Aragorn and asking for forgiveness. He knows what he did wrong and owned up to it before his death. A great example of a successful arc, IMO.

    About people disliking Boromir: I can see why… But I never hated him. It’s true that he’s bolder and more outspoken than Aragorn and… well, everyone else in the Fellowship (except for Gimli, maybe). But he’s also human. He’s complicated. He makes mistakes. He reacts in potently noticeably and emotional ways. I’d love to see the full Extended Edition of LOTR for so many reasons, one of them being the chance to see more of Sean Bean’s performance as Boromir (of which he did a fantastic job).

    If you’re interested, I remember reading a fan essay a while ago that argued why Thorin Oakenshield is more like Boromir than Aragorn. Would you like the link?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure not all the works in the world on The Lord of the Rings will satisfy my inner fangirl, so definitely! 🙂 I’m sure all the Tolkien fans here would appreciate it as well.
      I liked what you said about his arc being “successful”. Although his death isn’t successful in the personal sense, it’s a pivotal moment for the story. If things had been otherwise, as I pointed out in another comment, the Fellowship would fail and Middle-Earth would surely fall into darkness.
      All the actions of the main characters have far-reaching consequences, the extent of which can only be guessed at later. And it comes up repeatedly. Such as Bilbo sparing Gollum’s life. I love this theme in the books that all of these little things finally matter. This is also why I would never hate the character of Boromir. All of his actions were necessary for the story to turn out as it did. His sacrifice made Aragon decide to rescue Merry and Pippin. His attempt at taking the Ring finally pushed Frodo towards his path. His dissent with Aragorn’s choices shaped the latter’s character as a leader. Boromir as a character mattered, although he may have played a small part. And for that, as well as his completely human nature, I do like his character.

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