Frodo may have one of the more clownish-sounding names in literature, but he's no clown. He may be a teensy little hobbit (they clock in at three-odd-feet) but his bravery is that of a giant. And he may be thirty-three years old as the book starts, but he's played by the twenty-year old Elijah Wood.
He's Bilbo's adopted ward and heir. Bilbo tells Frodo that it wasn't charity that made him adopt Frodo when his parents passed; it was because Frodo was the only Baggins who showed "real spirit." Essentially, Frodo showed a longing for adventure and excitement (two things that are very much discouraged in young hobbits). And Bilbo admired his pluck.
Now we know what you're thinking: Frodo didn't choose to take the Ring to Rivendell, in fact, he spends quite a bit of time trying to foist the Ring off on other people.
True, but Frodo doesn't exactly hesitate to take the Ring. He simply asks, "What must I do?" and then, "Where? Where do I go?" And even when his journey to Rivendell is complete, he, without any prompting (unless you're going to argue it was the Ring calling to him and he took it with a sense of greed or desire) volunteered to act as the Ring-bearer all the way to Mordor.
So Frodo is kind of the best of both worlds when it comes to having an adventurous spirit. He doesn't have chronic, irresponsible wanderlust… but he is willing to literally go through hell (Mordor is nothing if not Hell, Middle-earth-style) out of a sense of duty.
No man is an island… but maybe at least one hobbit is.
Yup—the movie is called The Fellowship of the Ring and is all about the companionship of the hobbits and men and dwarves and elves in their quest against evil, but Frodo is pretty dang isolated. Frodo is separated from the rest of the group—not just in the plot as the Ring-bearer and protagonist, but visually as well.
Check out the scene in the inn near the Prancing Pony when all the hobbits sit up when they hear the screeching Nazgûl. Merry, Pippin, and Sam are lying next to each other in identical clothing while Frodo lies apart from them and is in a unique outfit.
And there are constantly close-ups on Frodo that show only his face framed by the camera. Just count how many times you find yourself staring into those piercing blue hobbit eyes. These shots place the viewer in the mind of Frodo as he stands apart from the rest of the group.
Even Galadriel tells him that "to bear a ring of power is to be alone," and Peter Jackson hammers home that isolation by setting Frodo apart onscreen.
And—spoiler alert—it's not going to get any better for ol' Frodo. He's going to get even more isolated as the trilogy moves on.
Samwise Gamgee likes living the simple life. He loves drinking beer with his buddies. He likes daydreaming about his sweetie-pie Rose. He likes his neighborhood, and probably aspires to sit on some Shire city council when he's old and gray. He has no real interest in what lies beyond his hometown.
But, unfortunately for Sam, this makes him exactly the kind of person that filmmakers like to force into adventures.
And, to be fair, it's Sam's fault that he's picked to go on the journey to Rivendell: he's an epic snoop. On that fateful night as Gandalf council's Frodo about the Ring, Sam just happened to listen in outside Frodo's window. When Gandalf picks him out of the bushes, Sam is terrified that Gandalf might turn him into something "unnatural."
We know Gandalf's a capital-G Good Guy, so he doesn't turn him into something unnatural. But he does make him do something unnatural… especially for the home-loving hobbits. Gandalf makes Sam Frodo's traveling companion.
Before they've hardly started their journey, Sam is already confronted with the newness and scariness of the world outside the Shire.
SAM: This is it. If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been.
Sure, reaching the outskirts of the Shire seems like a big deal at the time, but Sam might find this statement laughable if he were to remember it while on the slopes of Mount Doom.
Sam gets psyched about seeing fulfilling his lifelong dream of seeing elves, but even once he gets to Rivendell he's already thinking about heading back:
SAM: We got the Ring this far to Rivendell and I thought... seeing as how you're on the mend, we'd be off soon… off home.
And don't expect this homesickness to wane during the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While Sam certainly changes during his journey with the fellowship, there are parts of him (the stereotypical hobbit-ty, Shire-loving parts) that will stay the same.
But Sam ain't just a reluctant traveler and homesick hobbit-hole dweller. In fact, those are secondary aspects of his character. The #1 most important character-defining trait of Sam is his loyalty. Dogs might be a man's best friend, but Sam is definitely the best friend a hobbit could hope for.
He's always looking out for Frodo. Even at the very beginning of the film, he stops Frodo from putting on the Ring as the Nazgûl closes in to their hiding spot. And even before they're fully aware of the danger of the Nazgûl, Sam is already worried about losing Frodo in a cornfield. Like he explains to Frodo,
SAM: It's just something Gandalf said: don't you lose him, Samwise Gamgee. And I don't mean to.
Sam sticks with this promise until the very end (although really we have a feeling it's got more to do with his loyalty to Frodo than a command from Gandalf). By the end of the film, Sam forces Frodo to take his company to Mordor by attempting to swim to Frodo's boat… even though it appears that Sam missed out on swimming lessons at the Shire Community Swimming Pool.
Sam will do anything to stay with and protect his bud. And even as Frodo's depression and isolation deepens in The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Sam's loyalty stays steadfast.
Don't go consulting Harry Potter if you want to understand Gandalf's wizarding ways. He doesn't drink Butter Beer, there are no phoenix feathers in his magic wand, and he's never had to suffer through Herbology lessons.
Neither is he a wizard of the Merlin-from-The Sword In The Stone school. He's not some crusty old dude who has a few magical powers and experiences time backwards.
Instead, he's a special brand of Middle-earth wizard. Wizards were Maiar (or lesser Gods) who became incarnate and traveled to Middle-earth to guide the beings that dwelled there.
Yup: Gandalf is literally a god.
And we know that he's been around a while and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. He may not be as powerful as Saruman, but he's not too far off. Gandalf is the bearer of Narya, an elven ring of power known as the ring of fire. We see him scouring the earth, travelling to Mordor and dusty archives to learn about the ancient history of the One Ring. He's also in tight with the elven king Elrond and the Great Eagle king Thorondor. And when Saruman reveals the Palantír to him, Gandalf knows of the danger it may possess.
But despite his wisdom, Gandalf is not powerful enough to defeat the demon Balrog. He knows that it's hiding in Moria—which is why he wants to avoid the mines in the first place. At first it appears that he will be able to defeat the Balrog as he invokes his divine heritage and his possession of Narya, saying,
GANDALF: I am the Servant of the Secret Fire, Wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udûn!
The Balrog are Maiar like Gandalf, who were corrupted during the ancient days. Gandalf's battle isn't one between man and beast, but a battle of divinity in which both of them are pulled down to the shadows of Middle-earth.
Gandalf may be an Istari, but in some ways he's also just an old dude. Remember his visit to Hobbiton at the beginning of the film? Gandalf sets off a few fireworks for the children as his cart passes and gets a good chuckle out of it. In Bag End he knocks Bilbo's chandelier a few times before bumping his head on a hobbit-level rafter. As he smokes his pipe and blows fancy smoke-rings, we get the sense that he really is just an old man trying to enjoy life a little bit when he's not out searching the world for signs of darkness.
This persona is integral to his role as a mentor—he not only guides the kings of the world, but also small people (both in stature and importance). Gandalf takes a liking to the hobbits, perhaps because they're so untouched by worldly greed and power-hunger:
GANDALF: My dear Frodo, Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet, after a hundred years, they can still surprise you.
There's no doubting the kindness and genuine affection in Gandalf's eyes as he interacts with the hobbits in Hobbiton and Rivendell. Sure, he's often deep in thought about the darkness of Middle-earth, but he's also always trying to protect others from it.
Pippin is in many ways the exact opposite of Sam. Where Sam is always very serious, Pippin is excited, fun-loving, and not the least bit careful.
We see this in his stealing and lighting of Gandalf's dragon firework and as he's picking Farmer Maggot's crops (probably for fun). He loves beer and he loves gabbing. In Bree, when he should be keeping his lips zipped, he starts running his mouth about the Baggins he knows:
PIPPIN: He's my second cousin once removed on his mother's side and my third cousin twice removed on his father's side.
(We have no idea what he's talking about, but we do know that he's spilling secrets when he really should be shutting up.)
Pippin is perhaps most infamous for his small goof in Moria: he sends an old skeleton down a tunnel and awakens an entire orc horde. Gandalf has some pretty harsh words for Pippin—and he deserves every one of them. There's no denying that Pippin starts out as a complete buffoon.
But there's also no denying that he ends up fighting bravely, and that he harnesses his manic mischief and uses it to kick orc butt.
In fact, Pippin shows a lot of bravery throughout Fellowship (even when its bookended by blockhead maneuvers): he helps stand up to the Nazgûl on Weathertop, he fights off some orcs in Moria, and he acts as a distraction so that Frodo can escape to Mordor.
"Brave" might not be the first word you think of when Pippin does idiotic things like get a tummy ache after eating too many pieces of elf-bread, but you can't deny that when the going gets tough, Pippin gets going.
Merry is Pippin's bestie. And, like Pippin, he's a troublemaker through and through.
But Merry's fit into the hobbit foursome is somewhere in between the all-out levity and hilarity that is Pippin, and the often serious and somber outlook of Sam. We see Merry very excited about ordering a whole pint of beer at the Prancing Pony ("This, my friend, is a pint!") and even more excited by setting off Gandalf's biggest firework. He enjoys a bit of adventure—like pilfering Farmer Maggot's crops—but he's definitely not ready for what's ahead of him.
But Merry is a bit quicker than Pippin in adjusting to the life of the Fellowship. He consoles Pippin when Strider proves that he isn't familiar with the meals known as "second breakfasts" or "elevenses."
And it's Merry who realizes that Frodo plans to leave and journey solo to Mordor. It's Merry who initiates the Pippin/Merry orc decoy, which ends in them being hauled off toward Isenguard.
So Merry is the brains behind the dynamic duo that is Merry and Pippin. He lacks the unbridled enthusiasm of Pippin, but he makes up for it with thoughtful planning. But don't think that makes him any less fun-loving—he totally lives up to his name.
When Aragorn first appears to us he is nothing but a cloaked man of mystery. He sits in the corner of the Prancing Pony covered in shadow as he stares creepily out at the world… particularly at the group of hobbits.
When Frodo asks his name, the innkeeper says that folks around here call him Strider. Yikes. Basically, he appears to be exactly the kind of person your parents warned you to stay away from (especially if they offer you candy). So when he grabs Frodo and forces him into a room upstairs, we're imagining the worst.
But hey, he turns out to be all right. In fact, he's better than all right—he saves their lives.
We learn a lot about Aragorn pretty quickly. He knows about Gandalf and he tells the hobbits the story of the Nazgûl. He's pretty much a walking Middle-earth Wikipedia—his wisdom probably springs from all the wandering around he does.
All that wandering around also makes him an outdoorsman (they don't call him a ranger for nothing): we see him bringing a dead deer back to camp. He's also a swordsman—he's able to single-handedly fend off five Nazgûl on Weathertop.
But all beneath all that manly man swagger, he's forlorn when he sings the Lay of Luthien. He's a complicated man.
The fact that Aragorn has noble blood running through his veins comes out bit by bit—foreshadowed by a dramatic close up on Aragorn's face when Elrond explains that the heir of Gondor has chosen a life of exile. We finally learn from Legolas that Strider is no mere Ranger who just happens to be smooching the elven king's 3,000-year-old daughter. He's the descendant of Elendil and Isildur, and heir to the throne of Gondor.
But we don't really see much of Aragorn in his kingly form during Fellowship. He tells Legolas to stop jibber-jabbering about the throne of Gondor; he clearly wants to distance himself from his identity as royalty. But it's clear he has some stature amongst the elves in Rivendell and Lothlórien, and we end the movie with the distinct feeling that it won't be too long before Aragorn will have to show his true royal colors.
Bilbo sure is one adventurous hobbit. As a member of a race famous for not being famous, Bilbo breaks the mold.
You may have heard of a little book called The Hobbit or There and Back Again, which is Tolkien's first published venture into the world of Middle-earth. Bilbo has seen cave trolls turned to stone, the inside of an elven prison, a lair of Mirkwood spiders, and real, fire-breathing dragon, just to name a few.
So it's no wonder that Bilbo is so eager to go out in the world again. He's tired of reenacting the saga of the cave trolls to silly hobbit children. He wants to wander through the Misty Mountains once again, or ride the backs of Great Eagles. It's this same "real spirit" that lead Bilbo to adopt Frodo; he sees a bit of himself in his nephew.
But let's not forget that Bilbo is still a hobbit through and through. When he first greets Gandalf he immediately begins hustling about the house trying to prepare a decent hobbit-style meal:
BILBO: You've caught me a bit unprepared. I'm afraid we've only got cold chicken and a bit of pickle—oh and there's some cheese here, oh no that won't do! We've got raspberry jam, an apple tart but we've not much for afters. Oh no we're all right; I've found some sponge cake.
Not only is Bilbo a snack-loving gourmand, but he's also drawn to the quaint beauty of the Shire. He talks of Frodo being in love with "the woods, the fields, and the little rivers," but he himself speaks of them so wistfully that it's obvious that Bilbo too is very much attached to his home.
So if Bilbo is so attached to his old stomping-grounds, why does he say:
BILBO: I need a holiday...a very long holiday and I don't expect I shall return... in fact, I mean not to.
Well, Bilbo also says that he feels "thin... sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread" (a hobbit simile if we've ever heard one). The problem is that this feeling isn't from being at home in Hobbiton, like Bilbo suspects. What's stretching Bilbo is the Ring.
Bilbo has had the Ring for six decades; a very long time for possessing something so hyper-addictive that it ensnares Boromir in a matter of seconds. Bilbo has become to attached to the Ring that he calls it "my precious" (a phrase borrowed from Gollum) and turns him into a demon when he sees it around Frodo's neck in Rivendell.
Ultimately, being a bearer of the One Ring allows Bilbo takes a ship with the elves to the Undying Lands where he can live out his life in a final, peaceful adventure.
Boromir gets a bad rap. Sure: he tries to steal the Ring from Frodo. But the spirit of Sauron can be totally overpowering—look at what it does to Frodo, Bilbo, and Isildur. Even the Elf Queen Bee Galadriel has to fight hard against it.
The problem with Boromir is that he's just a… man. In the film's introduction, Galadriel describes men as blinded to Sauron's deceit by their lust for power. And Elrond mocks Gandalf for putting his hope in men. Men aren't thought of so highly—and for good reason, considering the fate of Isildur and the Nazgûl.
So Boromir's problem is that he's a man, and his character is meant to be representative of the race of men. He wants to use the Ring for good and, while he's certainly not lacking in courage, refuses to listen to the warnings of Aragorn and others.
In fact Boromir acts as Aragorn's foil, showing that Aragorn's choice of exile over power as the King of Gondor and his refusal of the Ring when Frodo offers it to him are characteristics fit for a hero and a leader. Aragorn is set apart from normal men, but poor old Boromir falls into the traps of darkness:
BOROMIR: What chance do you think you have? They will find you. They will take the Ring and you will beg for death before the end. You fool! It is not yours save by unhappy chance... it might have been mine. It should be mine. Give it to me! Give me the ring.
But let us not forget Boromir's more lovable moments. Not only does he have a grand old time teaching the hobbits some sword fighting skills, he also has a touching scene with Aragorn in Lothlórien: he tells Aragorn that he would follow him to the end. This is a big change from his "Gondor has no King" attitude when they meet in Rivendell.
And after the Ring has finished consuming Boromir he appears immediately regretful and puts his life on the line to save the hobbits. He dies muttering his apologies, and Aragorn assures him he will not have died in vain.
Yup, he'll be bringing his axe. And no, "axe" isn't just a metaphor for his allegiance; he will definitely be bringing a lot of axes.
Gimli is the most lovable kind of stubborn. At first he might come off as a little dense when he tries to crush the Ring with his axe—which probably wasn't the best idea even if it was just a normal hunk of metal. And yes, maybe he also comes off as a bit racist when he refuses to see the Ring taken in the hands of an elf, but by the time Fellowship has come to a close, Gimli is one of the most endearing characters.
Gimli is cheerful when the trip begins, urging the hobbits to take down Boromir as he trains them. He's distraught by the death of his cousin, Balin, and then enraged as he fights off the orcs occupying the dwarven halls. And Gimli maintains his pride even when death is near at hand when he refuses to be tossed in The Two Towers.
While Gimli and Legolas don't exactly hit it off, their relationship seems to change for the better with Gimli's reception of Galadriel. He is awed by her beauty and even asks her for her hair as his gift of choice. Aww, it sounds like Gimli has a little crush.
All in all he's a stereotypical dwarf; simple, direct, and stubborn as hard rock.
Everyone loves the pretty-boy, deadeye sniper named Legolas. He's like what would happen if you combined a Calvin Klein model and a Navy SEAL. Or a ballet dancer and a WWE wrestler. Or a swan and a great white shark. Or maybe just Orlando Bloom and a blonde wig.
But Legolas' character is shrouded in mystery. We know he's an elf… but what else is he? When he makes his appearance at the council, he is quick to point out Aragorn's true identity, meaning he's knowledgeable (unlike Boromir). He's also the first to recognize the moving cloud of Crebain for what it truly is: trouble.
He remains mostly by the wayside in Lothlórien as Aragorn does negotiating, showing that even an elven prince of Mirkwood (his father was Thranduil) doesn't have the same power as Gondor's heir.
Elven powers pretty much grow over time (is there any downside to being an elf?). Arwen is less powerful than her father, Elrond. But even Elrond is no match for Galadriel, who was born before the First Age of Middle-earth. She could be close to 10,000 years old.
Unlike Arwen, Galadriel's age isn't portrayed by a deepening of her voice but by her possession of knowledge and sight, which seems to penetrate both the minds of the fellowship and the whole future of Middle-earth. Galadriel is the bearer of Nenya (one of the elven rings of power) and therefore has a connection with Gandalf and Elrond, the other elven ring-bearers.
Galadriel is at once gentle and frightening. We see her looking gently upon each member of the fellowship as they prepare to embark on their journey. She smiles to them and clothes them in elven cloaks and brooches and gives them each a special gift. But Galadriel also says some terrifying things about the world being on the edge of a knife… not to mention her late-night rendezvous with Frodo, when she grows dark with her desire for the power of the Ring and her voice warps into something almost demonic.
But Galadriel passes the test that she must have seen coming. She denies herself the Ring when Frodo offers it, and says that she will leave to the west. With even the ancient and mighty Galadriel departing from Middle-earth, the time of the elves is truly at a close.
Ah yes, the master Elf himself. Elrond was born way back in the early days of the First Age (or, put another way, is around a whopping 6500 years old during the events of the film).
Yeah, he's seen some things. And by "some things," we mean he's seen battle and death during the War of the Last Alliance and betrayal in its aftermath when Isildur failed to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom. So Elrond is a little jaded about the ability of men, but we can't exactly blame him.
As one of the oldest and most powerful elves left in Middle-earth, the bearer of an elven ring of power, and the leader of the Ñoldor elves of Rivendell, he carries a lot of weight on his shoulders. Elrond is the down-to-earth, pragmatic leader who knows how to get things (like throwing evil rings into volcanoes) done. If only he had given Isildur a little push back in the day but we imagine that would have led to a very awkward conversation with Isildur's troops gathered outside Mt. Doom.
Arwen may be the daughter of Elrond, but don't be fooled by her youthful appearance: she's quickly approaching 3,000 years old. Fact: actress Liv Tyler spoke with a low voice in order to add a sense of wisdom and experience to her character.
And surely Arwen has seen a bunch of men in her day, but apparently none of them held a candle to Aragorn. Despite Aragorn being mortal, Arwen falls in love with and is willing to give up her immortality to be his blushing bride. Arwen gives Aragorn her Evenstar necklace (which we're pretty sure is just a piece of jewelry with no magical powers) as a symbol of her commitment. While Tolkien's story was devoid of any lovey-dovey subplots, Arwen fulfills the character of the romantic maiden in Jackson's adaptation. If said romantic maiden was also capable of outrunning nine immortal demon princes and summoning aquatic horses.
And hey, what's not to like about an elf willing to risk her hide for a paltry dying hobbit by outriding a flock of Nazgûl and calling down a crushing force of water horses?
The Nazgûl used be just regular human kings, but the nine rings given to them by Sauron turned them from normal-powerful to super-magical-powerful. While they gained wealth they lost their humanity, eventually becoming specters visible only to those in the realm of wraiths (which is why they weren't fooled when Frodo puts on the Ring at Weathertop and why every time he puts on the Ring, they sense his presence).
The Nazgûl are a pretty stunning lesson in the dangers of greed and accepting gifts from total strangers. But what's more interesting is that there are nine of them. This is also the number of people in the fellowship: four hobbits, a dwarf, an elf, two men, and a wizard. A coincidence? Hardly. These wraiths are the evil twin of the fellowship, representing the consequences of heeding the Ring's siren song.
Saruman, like Gandalf, is one of the five Maiar (gods) who were sent to Middle-earth to guide its inhabitants. Saruman was known as Curumo and was the greatest and wisest of the five hence his name "Saruman the Wise" and not "Saruman the Original."
But Saruman is corrupted. In Orthanc, the tower of Isengard, Saruman has been consulting a Palantír . Through it, Sauron has corrupted him. And although Saruman seeks power for himself (and plans to turn on Sauron), he has betrayed the elves and men and all free people to gain it.
We definitely don't get enough Gollum action in this movie. We just see him as a shadow in Moria and a head floating in the water.
But that doesn't mean his role in The Fellowship of the Ring is unimportant. We're given a very brief overview of his past, which consists of him finding the Ring 1,500 years after it was lost by Isildur. He takes it with him to Moria where it keeps him alive, but corrupts him beyond repair:
GALADRIEl: The Ring came to the creature Gollum who took it deep within the Misty Mountains. And there it consumed him. The Ring brought to Gollum unnaturally long life. For five hundred years it poisoned his mind.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for Gollum, the Ring betrays him and falls into the hands of Bilbo. It's not clear what Gollum does over the next few decades, but we know at some point he's picked up by the enemy and tortured for information. He cracks under the pressure, screaming "Shire," and "Baggins," and sending the Nazgûl on course to Bag End.
But Gollum is set free and somehow finds his Ring again, almost as if it draws him in from across Middle-earth. Gollum in the film is reduced simply to a reminder of the destructive power of the ring, much in the way that his original name (Sméagol) is reduced just to "Gollum," the sound he makes when he coughs.
But seeing as he hasn't given up on regaining the ring yet (and also seeing as Gandalf quite plainly tells us that Gollum still has a role to play in the Ring's fate) we should probably keep an eye out for him in the sequels.