The Greatest Gifts of All
An ordinary man at first glance, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a complex personality distinguished rightfully by his “particular gifts, intuitions, and experiences, and especially by that integration of them within his inner life which is accessible to us only through his works” (Rosebury 2003, p146). Though many debate whether Tolkien was ahead of his time as a writer or still lingering distantly in the mediaeval era, his gift of lore persistently captures the hearts and imaginations of those who read his works. “The Lord of the Rings” is an epic tale told as a journey for life and death. It has become a multifaceted philosophical look behind the many layers of human nature itself. As the destruction of Middle-earth becomes inevitable, Frodo Baggins encompasses the One Ring, and bears the burden no other can endure: destroying it. Eight others, all of different races and backgrounds, join him, each contributing their own insights and capabilities along the way.
Throughout their travel, the Fellowship is assisted frequently by both tangible and intangible gifts. These gifts define an important element of the book that deals with the softer side of human nature. Those who received the gifts valued them tremendously, never disregarding their magnitude during the voyage. As the expedition progresses, the enormity of Frodo’s mission becomes apparent, and though he falters many times, he is eventually prepared to bestow the greatest gift of all to Middle-earth: his life.
At his eleventy-first birthday party, Bilbo Baggins gave out many generous presents, an old hobbit custom. This simple, yet telling, gesture indicated the importance that giving gifts represents throughout the book. The most important gift Bilbo gave that night was his precious Ring, which he bestowed upon his nephew Frodo. Frodo knew the ring was important in some way, though he did not yet completely understand its significance.
Bilbo’s other gifts to Frodo proved to be more valuable than Frodo first realized. After Frodo’s near death encounter with the Nazgûl, Bilbo wanted him to be secure and well protected. He took Frodo aside and offered him his most prized possessions.
“He took from the box a small sword in an old shabby leather scabbard. ‘This is Sting,’ he said, and thrust it with little effort deep into a wooden beam. ‘Take it, if you like. I shan’t want it again, I expect.’ Frodo accepted it gratefully” (FotR p270).
Bilbo also took out his dwarf-mail made of Mithril and helped Frodo put it on. The sheer magnitude of these gifts was not discovered until later when in the Mines of Moria when the Fellowship was being tracked by countless Orcs. As the Orcs drew nearer, Sting began to glow intensely. As the battle ensued, a spear stabbed Frodo pinning him against a wall. Afterwards, however, it was discovered that Frodo was unscathed beside aching and bruising. Sting thus proved to be a most useful weapon with its ability to detect Orcs and stay sharp without honing, and the Mithril dwarf-mail, made of a metal similar to silver and very light, was exceptionally strong and protective. These two gifts seemed simple and yet the gesture was great in stature. Without Bilbo’s war gear, Frodo would have surely died from physical injury and never completed his destiny.
Though the Elves were set to leave Middle-earth for the Undying lands, they gave many gifts throughout the expedition that proved to be most beneficial. When Frodo first arrived at Rivendell he had been stabbed by a Morgul blade and was quickly fading. Elrond then spent many days though, nursing Frodo back to health, essentially giving him his life back. Then as the Fellowship was established and prepared to leave Rivendell, Elrond again provided for the company with
“thick warm clothes … jackets and cloaks lined with fur. Spare food and clothes and blankets and other needs were laden on a pony” (FotR p272).
When the Fellowship came to Lothlórien, further gifts were presented to them, with Celeborn and Galadriel giving parting gifts to most of those in the Fellowship. Each gift represented not only who the Lady of Lórien was, but also how she was aware of each individual’s need. In a sense, she was thus becoming not only benefactor but mother to the Fellowship, giving of herself freely for the good of those on the quest:
“This is the mother-love which is one of the most moving and unforgettable memories… a joyous and untiring giver of life” (Jung 1971 p93).
As well as these specific gifts, the Fellowship were all also given Elven cloaks and lembas. Elven cloaks, light to wear and temperature controlled,
“are fair, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. We put the thought of all that we love into all that we make. You are indeed high in the favour of our lady! For she herself and her maidens wove this; and never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our own people” (FotR p361).
Lembas was also given liberally. This food was a type of waybread that gives strength even if eaten in small amounts. Throughout, Frodo relies heavily upon this food to strengthen him until his journey’s end.
To Aragorn, Galadriel gave an elfstone that had been passed down from three generations, knowing in her heart that he would fulfil his destiny and become both the rightful King of Gondor, and her grand-daughter Arwen’s husband.
“In this hour take the name that was foretold for you, Elessar, the Elfstone of the house of Elendil” (FotR p366)
The Lady of Lothlórien asked Gimli what it was that he sought. With hesitation he confided that a few strands of her hair would “surpass the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine” (FotR p367). It was well known throughout the history of Middle-earth that the elves and dwarves at one time were united, only to fall away from one another into dislike and hatred. Gimli’s open armed acceptance into Lothlórien was a new leaf turned over by the two races, uniting once again in the face of adversity. Galadriel granted Gimli’s wish, healing past wounds between the two nations and establishing a new and unbreakable bond.
Another gift given in Lórien was the earth from the Golden Wood given to Samwise Gamgee. Though Galadriel herself called this gift small, it was perhaps the single most important thing that later helped the Shire re-grow. After Saruman seized the Shire, he took great pride in ruining the vast beauty held within it, and it was only after the Istar was ruined that Sam could start the process of rebuilding, using the dirt given to him. By the next spring, “his trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty” (TTT p338).
The gift of friendship
One of the hobbits’ most salient qualities was their incredible capacity for friendship. Throughout this epic tale, friendship became an unmistakable gift, woven into their very existence. As the voyage progresses, so do the friendships.
Sam and Frodo start off with a very business-like relationship, with Sam being Frodo’s gardener. As punishment for listening to Frodo and Gandalf’s private conversation, Sam is then ordered to go along on the passage. The reality of his punishment though, did not surface until well into their journey. Even through life-threatening situations, Sam remained steadfast at Frodo’s side. As weeks turned into months, their friendship grew into one that was very deep-rooted and pure. Although Frodo is not as open about his feelings as Sam is, there are times when his deep affection for his “protector” is revealed. Unlike Frodo, Sam was very blatant with his fondness for his master. Sam always respected him by calling him Mr. Frodo, and put all of Frodo’s needs before his own, whether it be food, drink, or sleep.
In the darkest of times, Sam was always there for Frodo, encouraging him and caring for him.
“ ‘So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started; to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him. Well, if that is the hob then I must do it…’ He gave Frodo water and an additional wafer of the waybread, and he made a pillow of his cloak for his master’s head. Frodo was too weary to debate the matter, and Sam did not tell him that he had drunk that last drop of their water, and eaten Sam’s share of the food as well as his own” (TTT p227).
The picture that Sam paints for the readers is one of community, humility, love, and sacrifice. The beauty of his friendship to Frodo is undeniable – an obviously powerful gift given without expectation that became the crutch on which Frodo leaned in adversity.
Choosing to die for that which one believes is an astounding gift that many were not ready or willing to do. Two separate instances in “The Lord of the Rings” show the unprecedented gift of mortality. Whether it is Aragorn and Arwen’s love for one another or Frodo’s ultimate gift of life for a better world, their sacrifices came at great expense. Aragorn’s love for Arwen drove him to take a long and dangerous road of guarding Frodo and the Ring. If he had failed, he would not been crowned King and allowed to marry Arwen. This, of course, made Frodo’s safety particularly important to him. Arwen’s love for Aragorn comes at a much more complicated price. History tells us that elves are immortal, and will last as long as the world endures, but Arwen is half-Elven, and as such, she can choose whether she will share the fate of Men or the fate of Elves. She chooses to share Aragorn’s fate, choosing a mortal life full of deep love and passion, compared to an
“unending life without that love. She chooses life with Aragorn for its own sake and accepts eventual death as a price she is willing to pay to get it” (Bassham and Bronson 2003 p135).
Frodo makes the decision to take the Ring to Mordor without a second thought. His choice to journey to Mount Doom both creates the Fellowship and commits him to taking responsibility for the individuals who choose to help him in his quest. The burden that Frodo bears is a mark of sacrifice of the ultimate kind. Many times throughout the journey, he believes that he will not make it home to the Shire, and as he gets closer to Mount Doom, his strength withers considerably. But with the ever-faithful Sam at his side, and with a little help from Gollum, the Ring is finally destroyed. Although the destruction of the Ring brings peace again to Middle-earth, Frodo willingly pays the ultimate sacrifice – his life. Even though he did not die, he was never the same after the war, with both his physical and mental wounds remaining unhealed. The burden never truly lifts from him and Frodo only finds peace when in the Undying Lands.
“Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of divine Providence) and had produced a situation in which the object of his quest could be achieved. His Humility (with which he began) and his sufferings were justly rewarded” (RotK p326).
The concept of gift giving plays an irrefutable role throughout the pages of this timeless tale. The gifts were given so unconditionally – they were gifts of the heart that demonstrated integrity, principle, and honour. But in order to benefit from these gifts, the characters had first to give up their possessions, their homes and families through the act of self-sacrifice.
This is something the enemy never did. Although alliances were made within the dark forces, only selfish or evil deeds were ever completed. The gifts given to the heroes throughout “The Lord of the Rings” undoubtedly made their quest seem possible. The gifts of nourishment when hungry; shelter when tired; weaponry to fight; the mending of old rivalries and the resulting hope; true love; and self-sacrifice, call upon the true essence of human nature and define an epic tale that stands the test of time.
Written by: Betsy
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Jung, C.G. “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.
Rosebury, Brian. “Tolkien. A Cultural Phenomenon.” New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
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Haber, Karen, ed. “Meditations on Middle-Earth.” New York: Byron Preiss Visual, 2001.
Isaacs, Neil D. and Rose A Zimbardo, ed. “Tolkien and the Critics. Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1968.
Lord of the Rings News and Information. Home page. Council of Elrond. 28 Jul. 2005