The Stereotypes and Archetypes of Middle-Earth
by Michael Modine '19
Selected for an honorable mention in the 31st issue of Connecticut Student Writers (CSW) magazine
To most of the world, stereotyping is viewed as a very negative act, and it has only been connected with negativity. In reality, this is simply just not the case, stereotyping someone or something does not always have to be in a negative way. If executed correctly, stereotyping can influence a storyline, it can help one make connections to other things, and in some cases may even be comical. Many times we often discover stereotypes in works of literature, which can really bring out an author’s creativity. Another common practice used by authors in the literary world to express their creativity is through the use of archetypes. In JRR Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship of the Ring, the stereotypes that are most prominent are about Frodo, Gandalf the Grey, the Elves of Middle- earth, and mankind.
Since the beginning of literature, it is commonly found that the main character, the main hero is always given some sort of tool that will evidently help them along their journey, but that is not the case here. Unlike King Arthur in Idylls of the King with his sword, Excalibur and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars with his lightsaber, Frodo’s ring does more harm than good. This handing down of the crown, this passing of the torch, is as much a burden for Frodo as it is a responsibility. As said by Gandalf the Grey, “‘This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it- but he must not get it’”(Tolkien 49). Frodo’s quest is the ring, he must destroy it to fulfill his quest. Thankfully, Frodo is given a second tool, which actually contributes to the quest, his dagger Sting. Every hero needs their weapon, just like every journey needs its guide.
When a person thinks about a guide or a mentor in the world of literature, it is very difficult not to imagine someone wearing some sort of hooded robe, a long white beard, and most likely very old. Well, as a reader it is clear to see that the Company’s guide is none other than Gandalf the Grey. Time and time again Gandalf has saved the Company from many of their encounters, mostly involving Frodo at the tip of the spear, so to speak. Gandalf has basically been the ‘light’ in the dark and broken world of the Fellowship. Although he has been labeled as the ‘disturber of the peace’ by many of the hobbits of the Shire, once the Company loses him, there is this great loss of innocence and direction. Especially to Frodo because, “‘Gandalf was our guide, and he led us through Moria, and when our escape seemed beyond hope he saved us, and he fell’” (Tolkien 346). Luckily for the Company, Gandalf was not the only ‘superior’ race among them.
In life it is very easy to differentiate between; the upper, middle, and lower class of society. Which is completely understandable, with most people in the upper class you can tell just by looking at their appearance, and in some cases their attitude. Throughout Middle-earth, the reader sees the many different races that the Company encounters, and the seemingly most obvious race that is in the ‘upper’ class are the Elves. They may not be the most wealthy, but the Elves are highly trained, very intelligent, they wear very good armor with cloaks, and are all basically royalty. The Elves see themselves as being above everyone else, which just comes with their overruling of other races in the past. As Aragorn says, “‘let us hope that the virtue of the Elves will keep us tonight from the peril that comes behind’”, which just shows how selfish and unreasonable the Elves can really be (Tolkien 329). Like every yin needs its yang, every ‘superior’ needs its counterpart.
Having a perfect balance between the good and evil, the strong and weak is what makes the world go round. To obtain that sense of control over another is a desire of all races. To the Elvish race, mankind is their perfect counterpart. In Middle-earth, mankind is no longer at the top of the food chain, they are now the weaker race compared to the Elves. To Lord Elrond of Rivendell, Kind Isildur of Mankind was the reason that the Master Ring has corrupted so many. Since its obtainment during the War of the Ring when “‘Isildur took it, as should not have been. It should have been cast then into Orodruin’s fire nigh at hand where it was made’”, at this moment, Lord Elrond knew that mankind was morally weak, easily corrupted, and could not possess such a power (Tolkien 237). When the ring was in King Isildur’s possession, all of mankind had slowly been corrupted and wiped away from Middle-earth.
In JRR Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship of the Ring, the stereotypes that are most prominent are about Frodo, Gandalf the Grey, the Elves of Middle- earth, and mankind. Throughout the Company’s journey, many archetypes and stereotypes are revealed about the world they live in. In looking back, these archetypes can be found in numerous works of literature, but author JRR Tolkien does it best. Some people may find stereotypes and archetypes quite offensive, but in reality, they truly develop and evolve a story to the next level.
Tolkien, J.R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York. Mariner Books. 1982