Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Analysis

  • Sight

    SARUMAN: Concealed within his fortress, the Lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh. You know of what I speak, Gandalf: a great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame.

    This eye that Saruman speaks of isn't really a big part of the books. The "searching for the Ring" that the book talks about Sauron doing is all a metaphor. Sauron wants the Ring and uses the Nazgûl to retrieve it—but it's not like he's sitting in Mordor with a magnifying glass, peering into the corners of Middle-earth looking for a tiny Ring-bearing hobbit.

    But in the movie that's (almost) exactly what he appears to be doing. The eye is an invention (or expansion really) by Jackson to give Sauron and his searching a visual, visceral quality; something that viewers and characters alike can see and be frightened of.

    And it's not just Sauron who's doing all the seeing in Fellowship. Saruman has a Palantír, also known as a Seeing Stone (but literally translated to "farsighted" or "one who sees from afar"). The Palantír can be used to connect with other Palantíri and thus used for various levels of long-range communication… or spying and deception and other evil things.

    But sometimes sight is more metaphorical. For example, Galadriel can "see" all kinds of things. She doesn't literally see them, but she has knowledge of the future and of what evil lurks in the minds of men, hobbits, dwarves and elves. But to underline this knowledge, we get more than a few ominous close-ups of Galadriel's sparkling eyes.

    Frodo also uses Galadriel's silver basin to see—this time literally—into a future Shire. This basin shows him "that which has not yet come to pass." But Frodo isn't just reliant on Galadriel's magical birdbath: he's also given visions of Sauron's eye whenever he puts on the ring.

  • The One Ring

    It ain't just a ring; that much we know. But what is it exactly?

    During their adaptation of Tolkien's novels, Jackson and crew decided that the Ring couldn't just be an object; it also needed to be a character. So they gave it a creepy voice, and gave it the pretense of a physical weight (using the musical score and magnets in the floor of Bag End) to match the ethereal power it holds over those who possess it. They also connected it to the all-seeing eye, merging the two manifestations of Sauron's surviving essence.

    So the Ring begins to take on a life of its own, subtly working it's will into the world as it slips of the finger of Isildur, leaves Gollum, slips onto Frodo's finger as he falls, and constantly calls out to those around it, seducing them to wear it so that it may return to its master.

    But the Ring isn't only its own character, it's also a symbol of power and greed and deception.

    In the grand scheme of things, the Ring is just a tiny object that has floated around for close to three millennia. But from this small piece of jewelry comes a death threat to Middle-earth. The Ring, as we see from the opening sequence with Sauron incarnate, is full of a physical energy, a force that can literally lay its opposition flat in a single blow.

    But its power also lies in its ability to deceive. The Ring cannot simply roll into Mordor; it would have no hope in reaching its master if it could not trick the greedy minds of the unsuspecting—the minds of Saruman and Boromir and Bilbo and, at times, even Frodo. You may have heard that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and the Ring is a testament to evil that power-hungry beings can unleash.

  • Orcs

    Orcs and goblins and scary monsters—bad. Dwarves, elves, humans, and hobbits—good. It's as simple as that. The good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys.

    The Lord of the Rings has never presented much of a moral dilemma, which is probably why some nay-sayers tend to see these films as mere tales kids' movies (how dare they!).

    While these movies are clearly awesome for all ages, it's true that The Fellowship of the Ring isn't an intellectual inquiry into the depths of human depravity. Nor is it in any way allegorical, as Tolkien constantly tried to remind people. Instead, the conflict in Fellowship is a simple battle of good vs. evil.

    But how can you have a morally transparent movie and also have that movie about war? Isn't war always set in a moral gray area?

    Well, the answer is simple; you just use an age-old propaganda technique and dehumanize the bad guys. The orcs are humanoid, sure, but they are most certainly not human. They appear brainless, following orders with no volition of their own. They're sort of like a hive of angry bees. This is underscored by the fact that we rarely see single orcs, only masses of them in crowd scenes that effectively remove any individuality. In a way, they are more a force of nature than they are fully dimensional people; scores of extras for our heroes to fight against.

  • The Races Of Middle-earth

    GALADRIEL: It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings; seven to the dwarf lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls; and nine, nine rings were given to the race of men, who, above all else, desire power.

    Galadriel's introduction lays it all out for us. Each race has its own distinct characteristics, both in terms of lifestyle and personality. (If you want to get down to the brass tacks, head over to our Type of Being section under Characterization, where we do a quick and dirty break down of each stereotype.)

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    We get a beautiful view of Frodo's ordinary world: the wonderful, peaceful, vibrant green hills of the Shire. Bilbo narrates how quaint hobbit life is, and we see Frodo enjoying it with the rest of them, drinking in the pub and running around on his big hobbit feet. It's a happy-go-lucky life for the hobbits.

    Call To Adventure

    Like his uncle, Frodo is called to adventure by Gandalf, who thrusts the Ring into Frodo's possession and asks him first to hold onto it, and then to take it to Bree.

    Frodo is uncertain, because he's never had such an adventure before, but with no alternative and with trust in Gandalf, he becomes the new Ring Bearer and heads off on his journey.

    Refusal Of The Call

    While Frodo does initially protest carrying the Ring, that's not where his refusals end. All throughout the film he tries to give the Ring to powerful people he trusts, like Gandalf, Galadriel, and Aragorn. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), each of them declines and Frodo is stuck with the burden.

    Meeting The Mentor

    In the city of Bree, Frodo and the other hobbits run into the mysterious Strider, who turns out to be named Aragorn. Aragorn takes the hobbits under his wing and guides them out of the city and away from the Nazgûl. Aragorn provides their first real introduction to the seriousness of their journey, explaining exactly what they're dealing with.

    Crossing The Threshold

    When Frodo finally makes it to Rivendell, it seems his journey is at an end. But, with the seductive calling of the Ring, Frodo is sucked into the real adventure, taking the Ring into the heart of Mordor.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Luckily for Frodo, he doesn't have to cross the threshold alone. With him he's got eight allies—the Fellowship of the Ring—who will face their enemies together.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    Frodo's approach to the cave is itself underground, deep in the caverns of Moria. In the calm before the storm that is the orc attack and Balrog fight, Frodo and Gandalf have a moment where they talk about Gollum and justice and fate; a brief moment of philosophical inquiry before stuff gets real.

    Ordeal

    The centerpiece of action in The Fellowship is the deadly fight with the orcs and Balrog in Moria. Just when the fellowship seems doomed by the sheer number of orcs surrounding them in the halls, the Balrog scatters the orcs and saves them, only to chase them onto the bridge of Khazad-dum where it drags Gandalf down deeper into the shadows of the mines.

    Reward (Seizing The Sword)

    The fellowship is rewarded by their bravery and Gandalf's sacrifice with their lives. Unfortunately, that's all they can ask for, and to Frodo it's no consolation for the loss of one of his dearest friends and mentors.

    The Road Back

    The road back is a sad one, and still full of peril. In fact, it's not even much of a road back: there's still a long journey ahead of them.

    This section consists of their stay in the elven woods of Lothlórien, where Frodo meets the Witch of the Woods and gets a glimpse into the future if his journey fails.

    Resurrection

    Frodo's resurrection is the final fight with the Uruk-hai. Boromir finally cracks and Frodo has to not only run from him and the orcs, but also from the rest of the fellowship as he's resolute in finishing his journey with the Ring alone. Also, Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs.

    So much for the hero's life: things are not looking up.

    Return With The Elixir

    But never fear; friendship is here. That's right; the elixir that results from the battle at the resurrection is the lasting bonds between the fellowship.

    Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas will stay together and try to rescue their brother hobbits while Sam is bound to Frodo and forces his way onto the boat to accompany him all the way to Mordor.

  • Setting

    Middle-earth During The Third Age

    Quick Tolkien Geography lesson: Middle-earth is a section of the world known as Arda. We only see bits and pieces of Middle-earth throughout The Fellowship, but we know enough about it that we can tell it's chock-full of all the elements a fantasy world needs to become truly fantastic.

    Unfortunately, at the time of the LotR, Middle-earth ain't doing so well. The dwarves, usually so hardy in their mountain halls, have suffered great losses at the hands of the goblins. The elves are leaving, heading back to their homeland in the west. This is the age of men… and men are highly irresponsible and greedy.

    All this is going down in the third millennium of the Third Age. The War of the Last Alliance (the one with Elendil and Isildur and the finger cutting) marks the end of the Second Age, which lasted close to 3,500 years. That means that 3,000 years have passed between that war and the current story… the ending of which will mark the end of the Third Age.

  • Point of View

    Adaptation: It's Ain't Easy

    Books and movies: not the same thing. Normally, levelheaded people are pretty chill about this difference. But when a movie adaptation of a book comes out (especially of a series with some of the most hardcore fandoms out there) people just can't help comparing the two… and hulking out when the movie falls short of their expectations.

    No Tom Bombadil? Outrageous! Aragorn in love? Terrible! Arwen taking up precious screen time? Horrible!

    But think about just how insanely hard adapting a book to the big screen is. In our humble opinion, the overall merit of a movie shouldn't depend on how true it stays to its source text. That merit should depend on how explosively awesome and heart-churning the movie is on its own … which The Fellowship certainly is.

    In an interview (that you can watch in our Best Of The Web section), Jackson says that recreating the books page-by-page would have been "un-filmable. (And if you've ever read the book we're sure you would agree.) Instead, he had to choose what was essential to the story and make it come alive in glorious Technicolor (and CGI).

  • Genre

    Fantasy, Action, Adventure

    Fantasy

    Let's be real: Tolkien basically invented what we consider to be modern fantasy.

    Sure, of fantastical creatures and magical powers are nothing new. And the sort of mythos invoked by the genre has been around presumably since prehistory, and has survived in most cultures through countless tales in oral tradition or epic poems.

    But good ol' J.R.R. is the grandpappy of fantasy as we know it.

    Before Tolkien, when you heard of elves you'd think of some Keebler-like creatures: really small people with pointy ears who lived in trees or provided slave labor at the North Pole. Dwarves were the friendly little guys helping out Snow White; and hobbits were theoretical homo sapiens precursors.

    Tolkien created a high-fantasy canon which is so beloved it's has been copied over and over again by writers through the past decades. Nowadays this Tolkien-based universe is one of the first things people think of when they hear "fantasy."

    Action

    If you read The Fellowship of the Ring, action probably isn't the first (or tenth) word you'd use to describe the arduous journey through thousands of pages of landscape description and elven poetry.

    But this isn't the creative musings of a philologist—it's Hollywood, baby, and people want action. When the book was on the chopping block, none of the intense battle scenes were cut and, given the visual nature of combat, these scenes in the movie take up a comparatively long stretch of time compared to their written counterparts.

    After all, what's a fantasy movie—with medieval armor and weaponry and evil creatures and frightening beasts—without any action? That's like leaving the bacon out of a BLT; it's practically a misdemeanor. Save the vast histories of Middle-earth for the Silmarillion: we'll take are action sequences like the hobbits take breakfast.

    Hot and heavy and all the time.

    Adventure

    Probably more than anything, The Fellowship of the Rings is a story of adventure. No surprise there: adventure is at the heart of almost every fantasy narrative. Just like the reader or viewer escapes into and experiences a whole new world of wonder, the protagonists venture out into the world at large and are challenged to grow along the way.

    And while the journey of a character doesn't have to be a geographical one, that is often the case in fantasy and holds true in The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo's journey is both one of personal growth (from unadventurous hobbit who stays in The Shire to the bearer of the most dangerous burden the world's ever seen) and a physical one that takes him into the heart of the conflict of Middle-earth.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    We're going to assume you're asking this because you stopped watching halfway through this movie. Was there an earthquake? A flood? A burned bag of popcorn that set off the fire alarm? What was it that dragged you away from Tolkien and Jackson's immersive fantasy world?

    This movie is called The Fellowship of the Ring because the book is called The Fellowship of the Ring. And the book is called The Fellowship of the Ring because it follows a group of people sent to escort the Ring bearer to Mordor, and they are called… the Fellowship of the Ring.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    What ending? This is just the beginning.

    This is where the road starts to actually get rough. Okay, Balrog and Uruk-hai were already pretty bad, but just wait for the arduous trek across Emyn Muil and the Dead Marsh and you'll be wishing you were back in Moria, playing footsies with the Watcher in the Water.

    The ending of The Fellowship of the Ring is the ending of the fellowship itself. Galadriel seems to have convinced Frodo to go it alone… although Sam comes along for the ride (and lucky that he does). Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, go to hunt for Merry and Pippin who are being transported by to Saruman on orcback.

    Now we're all set up for our split storylines within the two movies to come.

  • Shock Rating

    PG-13

    How do you keep a movie that revolves around a war against foul, man-like beasts below an R rating?

    Well, you hope nobody knows enough elvish to catch all the swear words… and you go easy on the bloodshed.

    There might be a whole ton of fighting, and the ground might be strewn with corpses of the fallen, but all we see is a few splashes of black orcish blood. There might be a few graphic moments, like Aragorn's tussle with the Uruk-hai captain, Lurtz, but for the most part all the slicing and dicing done by the fellowship results in a lot of dead orcs, and without a whole lot of mess.