Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Themes

  • Appearances

    Bilbo teaches us that "all that is gold does not glitter," but it's maybe even truer in The Fellowship of the Ring. Aragorn appears a lowly ranger when he is the heir to the throne of Gondor. The Ring is shiny but holds within it a mass of evil and malice.

    But not all appearances are deceiving. Hobbits are homebodies, and their cute and shabby appearance reflects this. Elves are ethereal, and they look it. Orcs are as evil as they are hideous, and the Ring Wraiths are death personified.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. How does the appearance of each race affect our perception of them?
    2. How are appearances used for deceit? Is the Ring the only example of hidden evil in seemingly harmless shell?
    3. When do appearances actually reflect a growing darkness or goodness with a character?

    Chew on This

    The fantasy genre always uses appearances to show the true nature of things.

    In The Fellowship of the Ring, nothing is as it seems.

  • Exploration

    Think about fantasy as a genre; it's all about adventuring through foreign lands with strange beasts and mysterious magics. Basically, it's a genre full of exploration. And The Fellowship of the Ring certainly doesn't break the trend of the adventure narrative.

    This is a journey through much of Middle-earth, from the hilly green Shire to the rocky crags of Emyn Muil and everything in between. Characters like Gandalf and Aragorn make the whole of the land their home, but others, like our gang of hobbits, have hardly every left their backyards.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Which character is the most adventurous? Which the least? Do you think people are born with a need to explore, or is it an acquired taste?
    2. Can an adventurous spirit be counted in miles traveled, or is there something more to it?
    3. Is exploration always portrayed as a positive thing? Can you think of times where curiosity and adventure have caused more harm than good?

    Chew on This

    Exploration as conquest never results in anything good. The dwarves drill too deep and awaken a Balrog, and Saruman's exploration using his Palantír ends in his corruption.

    It's only through exploration that the heroic deeds of Middle-earth are accomplished.

  • Man and the Natural World

    The first conflict that comes to our mind when we think of The Fellowship of the Ring is, of course, the great clash between the good guys and the evil overlords. But another war of sorts exists beneath this, a battle of man and the natural world.This battle takes place quite literally throughout the movie as the hobbits and the fellowship must brave the dankness of swamps and frigid Misty Mountains. But it's also a part of the races themselves.

    The orcs are an industrial people, cutting down trees and working in armories with steel to forge weapons, while races like hobbits and elves live at one with nature, building their homes into the natural landscape. Anything man-made (or really orc-made) becomes a symbol of evil.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Are the dwarven homes, like Moria, closer to a natural sanctuary or are they a manufactured affront to nature?
    2. Aside from Bree, we see very little of the homes of men. Would we think of them differently if Bree were an enormous, mechanized city in the heart of a wasteland?
    3. Why do the hard edges of Orthanc and of Saruman's staff seem evil? Is there something inherently threatening about them?

    Chew on This

    The Fellowship of the Ring puts forth an environmentalist argument: industrialization has destroyed the barren lands of Mordor while the hobbits, who live in the technological past, enjoy a quaint, happy life free of the physical and moral pollution.

    The Fellowship of the Ring takes no stance on environmentalism. The imagery of orcs is merely meant to suggest senseless aggression.

  • Betrayal

    With a title like The Fellowship of the Ring, betrayal might be the last thing you expect. And while there is more than enough friendship and camaraderie to go around, there's also plenty of deception and betrayal.

    The Ring causes men like Boromir and Isildur to betray the good of the free world out of greed. And, just like it finds its way onto Frodo, the Ring escapes the grasps of Gollum and of Isildur. With everyone from the wisest of wizards to inanimate objects betraying people, we don't know who to trust… other than Sam, of course.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. What makes hobbits such surprisingly loyal people? What can we garner from their lifestyle and worldviews that might give them an edge when it comes to resisting betrayal?
    2. In the books, Saruman isn't really serving Sauron—he's planning to betray him. Does this make him seem like more or less of a bad guy?
    3. In this film, whose betrayal is the most unforgivable?

    Chew on This

    The Ring and its evil master are behind all the betrayals in this film. These men aren't stabbing their friends in the back out of greed; their wills have been manipulated by the power of the Ring.

    All corruption and betrayal is only increased by the Ring, which seeks out the flaws in all who touch it. Every selfish act of betrayal shows what truly lies in the hearts of those whose repressed desires get the better of them.