Different Kinds of Friendship in Middle-Earth

By Martina Juričková

Word Count: 4251

Rating: G

Summary: An essay about friendship in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers

Note:

In the text I use the following abbreviations:

FOTR – The Fellowship of the Ring

TT – The Two Towers

ROTK – The Return of the King

H – The Hobbit

SIL – The Silmarillion

 

In an imaginary world as lively as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, readers can detect various kinds of friendships either between individuals, which can be intra-racial or inter-racial, or even between whole races and nations. In this chapter, I will comment on those friendships from books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy in which the characters and relationships are more complex and developed, in The Hobbit, and in The Silmarillion which I find the most remarkable.

INDIVIDUAL INTRA-RACIAL FRIENDSHIPS


Intra-racial friendship means a friendship which is formed between individuals belonging to the same race. This is the most common kind of friendship in Tolkien’s universe because just like in the real world, it is natural for persons to associate with those who are like them and around them. Moreover, the fantastical races such as Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves have a strong tendency to isolate themselves from the other races and not interact with them for other than business purposes.

Here belong, for example, the relationships between Gandalf and Aragorn (considering the wizard to be akin to Men), and Frodo and Bilbo. But the most notable is the friendship of the four hobbits from the Fellowship. I discussed in my previous article the crucial role of Frodo and Sam’s friendship in the War of the Ring, yet the friendship of Merry and Pippin towards Frodo was no less important for its success.

Merry and Pippin
Both Merry and Pippin were Frodo’s younger cousins and his closest friends since his childhood in Buckland. Actually, it was Merry who first learned about Bilbo’s magical ring, and in his own words, had been watching Frodo rather closely ever since the old hobbit left the Shire, being able to guard that secret better than the two of them (FOTR, I, 5). Later his concern for Frodo’s welfare led him to establish a conspiracy with Pippin, Sam, and Fredegar Bolger, using Sam to spy on Frodo’s doings in order to find out about his plan of taking the Ring to Rivendell.

Like Sam, it was foremost Merry and Pippin’s love for Frodo that made them want to accompany him and help him on that journey, even though they were aware of the danger that might befall them and were terrified by it. Yet, because Sam was also partially under an obligation set on him by Gandalf, Merry and Pippin were not, so their insistence on coming with Frodo can be considered more meritable. They were not discouraged from continuing the journey despite nearly dying twice ere they reached the Elven town; first being almost killed by a wicked Willow in the Old Forest, were it not for a “lucky chance” of Tom Bombadil walking along at that moment and commanding the tree to free them, and secondly by a barrow-wight, this time being saved by Frodo whose love for his friends made him reconsider his initial intention to escape by himself and leave the others in the tomb, instead cutting off the wight’s hand which was going to stab them. However, Elrond rather disapproved of it and wanted to send at least Pippin back home to warn the hobbits against a suspected danger, which as the end of the story reveals, would have been really useful and could have saved them much trouble after their final return. But Merry and Pippin were so determined to go with Frodo that they would follow the Fellowship unless they had been, in Pippin’s words, locked in prison or sent home tied in a sack (FOTR, II, 3). Only after Gandalf’s intercession and plea on their behalf did Elrond agree that they would come, which proved a lucky decision, because the two hobbits each later performed great and crucial deeds in matters of war: Pippin looked into the Orthanc Palantír and provoked Sauron to strike first and thus saved Faramir’s life, and Merry helped to kill the chief Nazgûl. And they would have followed Frodo even to Mordor, despite their immense fear, had they not been captured by the orcs.

The above-mentioned deeds show what an important role Merry and Pippin’s friendship with Frodo plays in the development of the story, but their friendship towards each other is also interesting. They had been best friends since childhood, and they seemed an inseparable couple. Their relationship was more like that of brothers. They were of similar character, mostly good-humoured and joking even in time of distress, such as when they were held prisoners by the orcs (TT, III, 3), Though it may seem inappropriate to the reader, it is the nature of hobbits to drive away fear with optimistic and funny talk. Pippin, being the youngest of the four hobbits, actually not even adult yet in hobbit reckoning, was sometimes more carefree and curious, which caused him and the whole company much trouble, such as when he threw a stone in the well in Moria or looked into the Palantír. In such moments, Merry, as the more reasonable one, acted like his older brother, or nearly a parent, calming him down and instructing him. On the other hand, Pippin could also be quite witty, taking chances when possible, for example, when he dropped his elven brooch as a clue or when he stabbed the Nazgûl.

Merry and Pippin were both empathic and caring toward each other. Their similarity was even noticeable when they were separated. Independent of each other, they offered their services to the leaders of two allied countries of Men: Pippin to Denethor, the steward of Gondor, and Merry to Théoden, the king of Rohan. And although they thought of and worried about all of their friends from the Fellowship, they missed each other most. Without each other they felt lonely, even in the company of other people. When Minas Tirith was besieged by Sauron’s armies, Merry dreamt he was a strong warrior and could save Pippin from the soon to be embattled city (ROTK, V, 5). Their friendship was so great that when Pippin was hurt in the final battle at Morannon and thought he was going to die, he wished Merry was there at his side in the last moments of his life (ROTK, V, 10). Upon returning to their homeland, they became leaders in ridding the Shire of various ruffians, and afterwards they lived together in Crickhollow for some time.

 

INDIVIDUAL INTER-RACIAL FRIENDSHIPS


Interracial friendships are those which are established between members of different races. While intra-racial friendships are common in Tolkien’s world, his stories more frequently feature interracial ones because the history-making events described in them usually require a clash and cooperation between different cultures, and such out-of-necessity relationships can often result in genuine friendships. From the writer’s point of view, these relationships provide a great opportunity for combating prejudice and exercising virtues. Nonetheless, the quality of friendship depends on the characters’ personality rather than racial typicalities.

Here belong, for example, the friendships between Gandalf, Bilbo, and Frodo; the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, or Frodo and Faramir.

Aragorn and the hobbits
The beginning of their acquaintanceship was marked with suspicion and distrust. When the hobbits first met Aragorn, he was clad in the fashion of rangers—in old, dirty clothes—so to them he looked like a villain. And his knowledge of their quest did not add to his credibility, but rather the contrary, for they thought he was Sauron’s servant and would kill them. Not knowing whether Gandalf ever mentioned him to Frodo, Aragorn first tried to approach them in the manner of a business transaction; his attempt to convince them of his friendly intentions was quite clumsy. Yet he confessed that as a ranger—a person used to long travels alone—he longed for friendship, not on account of anyone’s recommendation, but due to his own personality (FOTR, I, 10). Only Frodo was likely to believe that. The other hobbits let go of their doubts as soon as they read Gandalf’s letter introducing him, except Sam who out of his concern for Frodo’s safety remained rather suspicious of his intentions until they reached Rivendell. By that time they all grew to like Aragorn so much that they would have begged him to come with the Fellowship, had he not been already chosen by Elrond. Later, the greatest test of their friendship came after the breaking of the Fellowship, when Aragorn had to decide whether he, along with Legolas and Gimli, would follow the Ring-bearer or the kidnapped hobbits. If he acted out of duty, he would need to go after Frodo. But he did not. He decided to chase the orcs in hope to save his dear friends from their claws. This does not mean that he loved or cared about Frodo and Sam less. They just were not in immediate danger; moreover, their success depended on secrecy, and three such strong figures as they were would seem suspicious in the land they were going to. So it might actually have been Aragorn’s love and friendship that kept him from going with Frodo, either because he could not help him much, or that he did not want to attract unwanted attention to him. Instead, he chose the evidently more hopeless task to run after the enemies, fight three against hundreds if need be, and save Merry and Pippin or die trying. Actually, the two of them were very dear to the Fellowship, and almost everyone who met them treated them with special kindness, as if they were small children. No one wanted them to get hurt, so they were always left behind during the great deeds, and often felt like useless baggage.

Legolas and Gimli
Legolas and Gimli’s friendship is all the more interesting in that it arose between representatives of races which typically dislike, if not downright hate each other—the Elves and the Dwarves. The origin of their hatred laid within the time beyond counting and the First Age. It may be that the Elves scorned the Dwarves because they were not created by Ilúvatar, their God, but by Maia Aulë, his servant, and therefore they thought it unjust to let them live when it was a violation of God’s plan. Neither of them had understanding for what the other delighted in—the Elves in nature and living things, the Dwarves in jewels, metals, and handicraft. In times of peace and prosperity they managed to be on friendly terms, making use of each other’s businesses.

The greatest such friendship was between the Moria Dwarves and Eregion Elves in Second Age. But when evil beset their lands, the Elves accused Dwarves of being too weak and prone to evil, and the Dwarves thought Elves wicked for using their magical powers only for themselves. Of course, there were exceptions and some Dwarf clans at times supported Elves, loyally aiding them in battles against evil, helping them build their underground strongholds, or making armoury and jewellery for them, being closest with the Noldor. Yet the treasures which Dwarves made and gave as gifts to Elves would in a few generations become the object of fights between them over their rightful ownership, leading to the death of several eminent figures on both sides. However, the most recent cause of their enmity in the time of the War of the Ring was the waking up of Balrog in the depths Moria, dated Third Age.

As for Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf, when they first met in Elrond’s house they were full of prejudice and it took them much time to overcome it. They were both influenced by their fathers’ experiences from about eighty years earlier, Dwarf Glóin being then held prisoner in Thranduil, the Elven king’s palace. Several times on their journey together, they started arguing about the past wrongdoings of their races, Legolas once even calling plague on the Dwarf’s head for his stubbornness and suspicion against the Lórien Elves. But their relationship improved immensely during their stay in Lórien—on the Elf’s side, probably as a result of seeing the grace Galadriel showed to Gimli. There they started going for walks together and became fast friends. Indeed, they became such good friends that afterward they comforted each other when they were worried, such as when Gimli was afraid to ride a horse (he only agreed to ride it when sitting on the same one with Legolas behind the Elf’s back), or to enter the Fangorn forest. In turn, Gimli was a source of comfort for Legolas when he was feeling nervous before the battle in Helm’s Deep. Legolas even stood up for his Dwarf friend when Éomer threatened him (TT, III, 2), and was concerned about him when he got lost during the battle previously mentioned, and rejoiced when he found him alive. However, their competition over who could kill more enemies in this battle shows that they were still trying to prove which race was better. Probably the best declaration of the depth of their friendship can be found in the Dwarf’s words: “Where you go, I will go” (TT, III, 5), and their pact to visit the place that each finds wonderful—that is, Fangorn and Aglarond—though it was not much to the liking of the other. In the end, it was reported that many years later, when Legolas decided to sail west to Valinor, he took Gimli with him to receive a special blessing from Galadriel, and thus an Elf-friend became the only Dwarf ever to go on that journey (ROTK, Appendix A).

Bilbo and the dwarves
In the centre of The Hobbit book lies the relationship between Bilbo and the thirteen Dwarves from Thorin’s company. It started as a business partnership; the Dwarves were just looking for someone to add to their unlucky number on their way to reconquer their old kingdom from Smaug the dragon, and do most of the dirty work for them. From the beginning, they were dissatisfied with Bilbo and doubtful his abilities, particularly when he caused them much trouble with Trolls (H, 2). Nor was Bilbo happy about the Dwarves. But as the story developed and Bilbo slowly rediscovered his deeply hidden courage and saved them from being captured by the Mirkwood spiders, and also from the Elven prison (because he felt responsible for them due to the fact that he was chosen by Gandalf, the wisest person he knew), they started to think very highly of him. Balin especially grew very fond of him, being the only one willing to accompany him halfway to the dragon’s lair once they found it, and worried about his safety there. Bilbo also stuck to his new friends when they were besieged in the Lonely Mountain by the Elven army, even though he thought Thorin’s decision to withhold the treasure from anyone else foolish and he had a chance to escape and stay on the Elves’ side when he came to give them the Arkenstone, a gem the Dwarves treasured above all, so they could parley with him about it. Instead, Bilbo returned to the Dwarves despite knowing that Thorin would get angry at him for this. Luckily, in the end, before his death even Thorin acknowledged his friendship with Bilbo. With the remaining Dwarves, he stayed in touch ever after, and Balin even visited him at least once in the Shire.

Beren’s friendships
In The Silmarillion there are two characters whose friendships are no less remarkable than the story of their deeds, both Men and relatives, Beren and Túrin.

One of the two most important friendships in Beren’s life was with the Elf Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond in the First Age. Actually, Finrod “swore an oath of abiding friendship and aid in every need to Barahir and all his kin” (SIL, 18), when Barahir and his warriors saved him from a terrible battle, Dagor Bragollach. Barahir was Beren’s father, so when Beren came to ask help from Finrod, the Elven king remembered his friendship and went with him on his quest. Unfortunately, their company was captured by Sauron, and Finrod had a great song-fight with him. Nonetheless, they were cast into a deep pit and at regular intervals a werewolf came and ate one of their men. In the end, when only Finrod and Beren remained alive, and the beast came to eat Beren, Finrod broke his bonds and fought it to the death, himself getting fatally wounded. So he sacrificed his own life for Beren.

Beren’s second crucial friendship was somewhat unusual even for this fantasy universe, for it was with a magical hound, Huan. This is probably the only time in Tolkien’s stories when a friendship between a human and an animal played any important role. Huan was originally owned by Celegorm and Curufin, two rather vicious Elf brothers. He first discovered Lúthien, Beren’s love, in the woods on her way to rescue Beren, and brought her to his masters. But instead of helping her, they imprisoned her and wanted to force her to marry Celegorm. So Huan helped her escape and carried her to Sauron’s dwelling, where he fought with his werewolves and even Sauron himself in wolf shape, and bit and held him so strongly that Sauron’s spirit had to leave his body and yield his land to Lúthien (SIL, 19). After this fight, Huan returned to his owners. But when the returning Beren and Lúthien came across them and the Elf brothers tried to kill Beren, seeing this injustice, Huan attacked his owners and from that time remained in Beren’s service. Later, Huan sent giant eagles to save his new masters from the Gate of Angband, and in the end he killed Carcharoth, Morgoth’s wolf, who bit off Beren’s hand with the Silmaril (SIL, 19). Thus he, too, gave his life for Beren, even though he was not able to save him from the deadly wound.

Túrin’s friendships
The friendships Túrin got engaged in are quite untypical and far from ideal. As an effect of the curse Morgoth cast on Húrin, Túrin’s father, it proved unfortunate for everyone who offered him their friendship. His first good friend was the Elf Beleg, who found Túrin in the woods when his mother sent him as a little boy to be fostered by King Thingol. As the boy grew, Beleg became very fond of him, and when Túrin accidentally caused the death of one of Thingol’s counsellors, he tried to convince the king to pardon him, and tried to persuade him to stay. When Túrin stubbornly rejected this, Beleg took leave from Thingol’s service in order to join his friend in his self-exile. Together they were feared warriors until orcs invaded their camp and captured Túrin. During the raid, Beleg was wounded, but he pursued the orcs, determined to save Túrin. Unfortunately, when Beleg tried to rescue him in the night, Túrin mistook him for an orc and killed him with Beleg’s own sword.

The second person who showed friendship to Túrin was the elf Gwindor who helped Beleg rescue him. Gwindor took Túrin to Nargothrond where Gwindor’s former love, Finduilas, fell in love with him. As a sign of his friendship, Beleg was not angered by this; on the contrary, he tried to make Túrin return her love in the hope that she might break his curse. But Túrin’s mind was only on warfare, and this brought destruction on Nargothrond. In the battle of the city Gwindor was hurt, and although Túrin showed his friendship to him by saving him from the rout, he could not save him from death.

Túrin’s last friend was Brandir of Men, whose company he joined after the ruin of Nargothrond. Brandir healed Túrin from the darkness in his heart and later also Níniel, when Túrin found her. However, Túrin mistook Brandir’s attempts to dissuade her from marrying Túrin for jealousy, for he too loved her. But the real reason was his concern for them both, and a foreboding that something bad might come of their union. In the end, when Túrin went to fight Glaurung the dragon and Níniel went after him, Brandir followed her in order to protect her and thus he became a witness when the dragon cast his spell on her and revealed the truth about her past—that she was, in fact, Túrin’s sister Níniel—after which she committed suicide. When Brandir later told this to Túrin, he did not believe it and killed him. But when Túrin found out it was true, he sorrowed that he had killed three people who cared about him, and in order to not cause anyone more harm, he killed himself (SIL, 20).

 

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES

As it has already been mentioned in the previous chapter, various nations in Middle-earth formed alliances in order to be able to fight their enemies more effectively. Of these the Last Alliance was of the greatest importance because it involved and affected all of Middle Earth. In it Men led by Elendil, King of Gondor and Arnor, were united with Elves from Lindon, Rivendell, and Lórien led by Gil-galad and Elrond, supported by Moria Dwarves for the purpose of defeating Sauron.

But apart from it, there were also some minor alliances related only to a specific area or situation, such as the one between Mirkwood Elves, Men of Lake Town and Dale, and Dwarves from Iron Hills and the Lonely Mountain during the Battle of Five Armies described at the end of The Hobbit, although this one was formed out of sudden necessity rather than willingness. Nevertheless, it had a positive effect on their relations afterwards. There arose a lively business exchange between them, and in the time of the War of the Ring when their realms were attacked by Sauron’s allies, they aided each other as much as they could (ROTK, Appendix A).

Another example is the trade friendship between the realms of Men and Elves, each on one side of the Misty Mountains—the land of Men in the West, and the Elves dwelling in woods in the East, connected by Moria passage in the second age. Dr. Lynn Forest-Hill suggested that “[t]he Moria example also expands the scale of friendship from the personal and individual to the racial and commercial, as the Last Alliance and Battle of Five Armies expands it further into the political and ethical – coming together when faced with overwhelming evil,” (personal correspondence).

Gondor and Rohan
The friendly-help pact between Gondor and Rohan is of a wholly unique character with its roots reaching far into the past. The beginnings of their mutual help went back to the second millennium of the Third Age when the Éotheód, the ancestors of Rohirrim, lived in south Rhovanion. In this position they not only informed Gondorians about the doings north of their country, but they also bore the first assaults of Wainriders and Easterlings aimed at Gondor, and aided the kingdom in their wars against them. When the Witch-king of Angmar was defeated, the Éotheód moved farther north to their original homeland. But Gondorians remembered them as loyal friends, so when they were attacked again some five hundred years later, in the time of Cirion’s stewardship, they called for their help. And the Éotheód, led by Eorl, indeed came to their aid and together they won the Battle of the Field of Celebrant. As a reward, Cirion gave them lands along the north border of Gondor to become their new country and establish their own kingdom, which they named Rohan. Then Cirion and Eorl swore an oath of everlasting friendship between their two nations, bidding them to help each other when needed

Of their league, it is said that it never failed (ROTK, Appendix A). Rohan often came to Gondor’s assistance, and their aid was most crucial in the Battle of Minas Tirith. Also, Gondor helped Rohan as much as they could, except on one occasion when they, too, were attacked at the same time as their allies, and a great winter came. This nearly proved disastrous for the Rohirrim because many of their people died that time, including their king, Helm. But Gondor held to the old promise, and as soon as they settled all matters in their own country, they came to Rohirrim’s aid.

The oath was renewed by Aragorn and Éomer after the War of the Ring. Moreover, the friendship of these nations was thrice strengthened, even by marriage. First it was Thengel, king of Rohan, who wedded Morwen, daughter of the Gondorian steward, and during his reign the language of Gondor was spoken in his house. Later, his grandson Éomer married Lothíriel, daughter of a Gondorian prince, and his sister Éowyn married Faramir, the steward.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Tolkien stressed that nothing in the story happens by a mere chance but everything is the result of Providence, a God power which constantly operates in the background, even though he purposefully removed all direct references to religion.
  2. A branch of Elves reverent to Aulë and skilled in smithery.

Resources:

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit, 2011, London: HarperCollins, 2011. 336 pp. ISBN 978-0-261-10334-4
Tolkien, J.R.R., The Children of Húrin, 2014, London: HarperCollins, 2014. 313 pp. ISBN 978-0-00-759733-8
Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings, 2011, London: HarperCollins, 2011. 424 pp.  ISBN 978-0-261-10357-X
Tolkien, J.R.R., The Unfinished Tales, 1998, London: HarperCollins, 1998. 624 pp. ISBN 978-0-261-10362-8

 

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